The Importance of Relationships

Relationships in the fire service are of utmost importance. You think of your own family, the necessity for healthy relationships with a spouse or significant other. Your relationship with children, parents, in-laws can either bring joy or heartache. Estranged relationships are invariably a source of irritation and can often lead to bitterness. 

What about the firehouse? 

A good crew is one that gets along, everyone pulling their share of the load. The captain cares about their crew both on and off the job. The men and women know each other’s families and sometimes have social events outside of work. The atmosphere in the station is team-oriented and everyone “has each other’s back.” The drive to the station to start the shift is filled with anticipation, not dread.

Strong relationships carry up the chain of command. Where there is mutual respect and a genuine desire to know each other beyond work tasks, the morale is good, and more is accomplished. The converse can be devasting. I’ll never forget the time a chief walked through our station, was rude and wanted to talk with one of the firefighters. After a few seconds of discussion, the firefighter politely informed him that “… I’ll respect the color of your helmet, but I’ll never respect you.” An Arctic wind blew through the office.

The relationship between the union and its members is critical. Does the leadership listen? Do they respond? Do they try to meet individual needs, if possible? Do the members support the leadership? Is there a respect for the amount of time the union officers devote to the cause? Is everyone pulling in the same direction? If the president calls for help with a project, are the members quick to respond to the need? If the relationship between the union’s leader and members is strong, it presents a united front to administration and political leaders and issues tend to be solved much quicker and with less angst.

The same holds true at the higher levels of leadership. Do your local leaders have good relationships with the chiefs and political decision-makers? If the only time the president calls the mayor is when something is needed, it will probably not go well. As in every level of personal interaction, there must be the building of mutual trust and respect for things to go well. I’m not saying that you must become best friends with that supervisor, but at least know a little of what is going on in their life. 

For the CPF to be effective, the same principles hold true; there must be that “personal touch” beyond discussions of policy and the next election. Whether it’s the governor, an assemblymember, a fellow labor leader, an agency head or local leadership, effective leaders spend time cultivating those relationships. It takes time, but it’s worth it. 

Hopefully, you strive to strengthen existing relationships, heal those that are strained and reach out to those you don’t really know. At every level, starting with your family, we all know how important a strong relationship is. Invest the time and all will bear the fruit.