I have heard a lot of analogies over my career about the fire service like “You can peal one fire department name off the wall and replace it with another one and it would be the same” and “it is the same circus but with different clowns”. The more I hear this type of talk the more I have come to realize that we got some really big issues at hand that need immediate attention. I have witnessed many events and issues over the years and recently listened to a guest speaker at church talk about recent situations he was in and how his staff reacted. The first thought that came to mind was the fire service. I know that many folks are going to say here is a negative attitude about to come out. Well it just might be but it is reality and we have to face that it is what it is! We have three types of folks in the fire service: Shiners, Whiners and Recliners. So which do you fall into? Let’s take a look at all three and see what we can do to identify their characteristics.
This group known as the shiners in the fire service is the backbone of keeping the fire service moving and getting the work accomplished. These individuals work tirelessly in efforts to make the fire service more professional, safer ad better educated. They work to improve the safety of the community and give of themselves wholly. So why do Shiners get criticized so much. I recently had a department’s Deputy Chief tell me, “the more we do, the more they are going to expect and that will keep us having to do more, we need to coast for a while. We need to slow some of these folks down so we are not expected to do as much.”
The “Shiners” are self motivated and they are always looking to make the system better. They are team players and truly care about the fire service. This group of personnel is usually only a hand full in your department. This is not always the case as I have witnessed departments that the majority of the personnel were shiners.
Shiners are driven to find better ways to do their jobs. Even though a firefighter may have pried open a door on a search and rescue assignment, he may spend his time off thinking of a better or faster way of accomplishing the same task. That firefighter may spend time at construction sites or outside training to find out what works and what doesn’t. The whiners would complain that they had to work too hard, they didn’t have enough help, didn’t have the newest piece of equipment and not enough training. However if they had all they were complaining about it would be something else. These individuals are never satisfied and they try to bring everyone else down to be in their misery. The recliners would do just that, they would be hanging back doing nothing and telling everyone just how much they have done.
Time and success are very important to the shiner. Shiners are never content with the status quo and tend to be highly organized. To the average person, a shiner’s desire to have things in such an orderly fashion and in control could be considered “obsessive-compulsive.” Shiners also tend to be easily bored, which makes them more inclined to find trouble or become productive. Shiners are always trying new ideas, techniques and looking for a better way. Not embracing mediocrity, they believe if it is not broke lets break it, let’s find a better way.
Whiners would do just that whine that they are always tied up and they are too busy. They have a tendency to always be complaining and not working. The down grade new ideas and believe status quo is good. It has worked for the last twenty years so why do we need to go changing. The whiners like being bored; it gives them something to whine about.
The recliners believe success is measured in how much time they can be reclined in the lazy boys resting. Recently I have heard firefighters and officers with the mentality that we are here to run calls and fight fires not all this other busy work crap. The public demands us to be in the stations so they know we are ready to respond. Well from the typical position of feet propped up and head laid back position that is what they see. Unfortunately they never make it out of the station to see that the public and the job demands more.
Shiners, whiners and recliners, all firefighters don’t tend to be loners; they seek out group activities on the job and off the job. It has been said that birds of a feather flock together. Firefighters work and live in a group environment. From their very first day walking into a fire station, recruits learn that the fire service functions in a team environment. Firefighters train in groups, work in groups, live in groups and eat in groups. This close interaction favors people who are trusting, cooperative, dependable and determined. Because firefighters share so much of their lives with each other, they generally will build team values, foster increased team cohesion, and identify each member’s strength and weakness.
However, some firefighter personality traits may conflict with the team environment. The fire service is generally looking for people who are assertive, upbeat and talkative. Each of these traits can be of benefit to the group, but they also can be a liability to the team. So the shiners are carrying the recliners why the whiners are complaining about the entire situation.
In an interesting look at how firefighters work together, a study on work injury frequency and duration found that when firefighters cooperated in groups, injury rates were lower than when firefighters didn’t interact with each other. Firefighters who are reluctant to interact with other firefighters may in fact be reluctant to ask for help when they’re in trouble, possibly leaving them at risk of injury. So we can see that the shiners who most likely are always training and learning are our lowest risk to injuries. The whiners are complaining about something and most likely get out of doing it to speed the operation up and the recliners, well they are the ones who end up injured since they have not trained or worked much with the other groups. Heck it is tough getting up out of the recliner and doing something.
During my 29 years in the fire service, seldom have I witnessed a shiner give up on a task. Shiners will work at all cost to complete a task or assignment, sometimes placing them self at risk for the betterment of the task. A whiner may complete a task but it usually takes double the time as they have to complain about it for one length and then after realizing they are being forced to do the work get it accomplished…whining the entire time about it. The recliners well it may or may not get done and most times it is the shiners who pick up their slack and get it completed for them.
Failure isn’t in the Shiner’s vocabulary, so when Shiners are faced with a failed mission, they tend to take it very personally. Some administrators may think that a mission was a success without realizing that the shiner may have viewed the mission in a different light. Sometimes the fire chief’s viewpoint and the shiner’s viewpoint aren’t the same, resulting in conflict. The whiner’s failure is in the forefront of their vocabulary as they will be quick to tell you that this will not work and embrace failure. They then blame it on someone else saying that it was stupid to begin with and they knew it would not work from the start. The recliner’s view on this is well…if we sit around long enough someone else will do it or it will go away and we won’t have to deal with it. Problem is…they are correct, a shiner will pick it up of the mission dies due to lack of interest.
Firefighting isn’t just a job to the shiner; it’s who they are. Shiners strongly identify with the job, as evidenced by the off-duty clothing, homes and vehicles of many. They’re highly dedicated people who love nothing better than a bigger and better challenge. On the flip side, a shiner who loses his or her job because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement will lose this identity, which can be personally devastating. Whiners do what they do best they whine but they are in the same boat here as the shiners if they would lose his or her job because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement will lose this identity, which can be personally devastating. Why because they like the sense of belonging to have something to whine about. They have to start all over again in some cases. Most whiners are whiners in all aspects of their life so they will transition easier than the shiner. Recliners will embrace this because they get to do more of what they like.
Another common denominator in many shiners’ personalities is the burning desire to help people. Shiners enjoy helping out people in need. Firefighters are people who will place their own lives in jeopardy in order to save a life. They enter the fire service knowing that the fire service is a high-risk occupation and that they will place their own lives on the line for others. The whiners hold the same desire at a lesser level but like the fact they get to whine about having to do something. The recliners got into this because of the ability to hang out, do nothing and be involved. Shiners in their off-duty time have a tendency for volunteering with local civic groups or raise money for Muscular Dystrophy Association in an effort to help others. You rarely see a whiner or recliner involved in an event like this unless there is something in it for them personally.
Well what I have described is the shiners, whiners and recliners theory. I know that this is a different piece under leadership, not politically correct and made a bunch of folks mad, but it has value. The value is these are the types of people you are forced to manage and deal with on a daily basis. My advice is to keep the shiners motivated, give the whiners plenty to whine about and the recliners move them to the busiest station where they can’t recline or just get rid of them, they are dead weight.