Saturday, November 14, 2009

Definitive Moments

Beep beep beep. "Schmoe to the captain’s office. Schmoe to the captain’s office". Beep. I instinctively knew that this page was not a good thing for me. Call it a conscience, an intuition, whatever – I knew it wasn’t good. I knew that they knew, now I had to see just how bad it was going to be. I got a glance from one of the other firefighters as I left the room. He was worried too. You see, he was a witness.

I had placed him in an awkward position by allowing him to see my offense. Now at some point, he was going to have to decide whether to cover for me, or whether he was just going to tell them what he saw and heard.

I walked down the stairs to the captain’s office. As I neared the open office door, I could hear Captain Omnipresence on the phone, speaking in a somewhat muffled voice. For once, I decided to play this by the book. I knocked three times on the doorjamb, walked five paces away and awaited my fate. It didn’t take long.
“Enter” Omni commanded from his desk a minute later. I entered the captain’s office and stood before Captain Omnipresence. Omni didn’t offer me a seat and I didn’t take one. I just stood there.

Omni and I had known each other for a long time. I had come on the job a year or so after him and we had been stationed together a few times. We had served together on the association board during an especially dark time. I didn’t always agree with him, sometimes to the point of anger, but we knew each other well enough to realize where the lines were and I took steps to avoid crossing them. He didn’t deserve the scrutiny he was getting from this either.

“Schmoe, I have a project for you” Omni said.
I actually felt a slight sense of relief. Maybe this wasn’t about what I thought it was.

“Schmoe, I need you to do some investigating and find out who did this awful thing against the district. The Chief knows about it and he is pissed. He has given me direction to find out who is responsible and then take the appropriate action.”

It was about what I thought it was. I was momentarily confused however, as the event had occurred only an hour or so before my summons. I inwardly marveled how fast bad news travels.

My confusion rapidly gave way to the realization that I was at a pivotal, definitive moment in my career. I could either be deceptive and not come up with the culprit or I could just fess up.

I might get lucky I reasoned. I could say that no one was talking and that I had no idea who could do such a thing. If I took this course of action, I was placing my future in the hands of FF Witness. I would be depending on him to be deceptive and not to say anything.

If I fessed up, it would mean that I would definitely face some form of disciplinary action and that I would have to hear about my poor judgment from my friends for a long time to come.

After a second or two of deliberation, I wisely chose the latter.

“That’s easy,” I told Capt. Omnipresence, “I committed this heinous act.” The look on his face told me that he was pretty sure I had been behind this event and that he was not happy that his suspicions were correct. You see, the nature of the crime fit my personality profile to a tee.

I am not in a position to tell you what I did, let me just say it involved opening my mouth in a very public way. Not only was it public, but it was not an appropriate forum for me to express my opinion. The method of delivery could have been better as well. What I didn’t know, was that when I committed this extreme lapse of judgment, three chief officers were in the building and heard the commotion. That explained why the hammer fell so quickly.

As it turned out, my spanking didn’t hurt that bad. I deservedly took my lumps and moved on. My boss took a few lumps as well, although he fared much better than I.

A good friend of mine is going through a similar issue, though his situation is more akin to FF Witness’ potential quandary. He works for a much larger agency than I, in a larger county. My friend was presented with a similar definitive moment where he was forced to make a decision as to whether he was going to be 100% truthful about an event, or whether he was going to omit some facts that could have an extremely negative impact on another person.

He chose to omit a few facts and be deceptive. He did this not to protect himself, but to protect the other person, who works for another agency and to whom he has no obligation of loyalty. This turned out to be the wrong decision, as the deception was discovered.

I am certain he came clean once the issue surfaced, but by then it was too late, the damage done. My friend is facing severe disciplinary action. I wish him well with this, but there is absolutely nothing that I can do to help him, other than hope for an outcome that is not too severe.

The parallel between my friend’s current situation and mine of a long time ago is not lost upon me. It serves to reinforce my decision as the correct one. Had I not made the choice that I did, I would probably be writing a blog about selling stereos or about managing a restaurant. Nothing wrong with either of those careers, I just think that I’m better suited doing what I do.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Thanks for this, Cap.

    I am all about accountability.

    My years of service have taught me over and over that there is no other way to go.

    At the end of the day, it is by far the easiest route to take.

    You do it long enough, and people will begin to always take you at face value, knowing you're on the level, and be willing to leave it at that. Again... makes everything easier.

    Good post, sir.

  2. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    I had to think about how to respond, because it was so right I had nothing to add.

    Today it comes to me that the moment of decision kept whatever the problem was to proper size. Honesty allowed for remedy and perspective. It's a good reminder. It deflates at least half the resentment to say, "It was me."

    Thank you very much for this. Practical and inspiring.
    Ann T.

  3. Great post, Capt!
    I am a firm and I mean firm, believer in the truth. It never hurts worse than a lie or an omission in the long run!!
    Stay safe!