Monday, January 25, 2010

Ps and Qs

My grandma had a saying that she would use on us kids when she wanted us to behave. She would tell us to mind our Ps and Qs. I don't really know what that means, other than when she said it, she meant business. You didn't screw with grandma.

Dave Statter over at Statter 911 has been running some stories lately about firefighters getting into trouble with the law and being arrested. The majority of arrests appear to be alcohol or drug related. Imagine that. Typically, we don't do our best thinkin' when we have been drinkin'.

One of Dave's more recent articles focuses on departments in Memphis TN and Pittsburgh PA. Apparently, both agencies have had some recent media scrutiny over  the number of fire department employees that have been arrested and/or convicted of crimes. Many of these firefighters have managed to hold on to their jobs. His post can be found Here.

One of the firefighters mentioned in Dave's article was a Memphis firefighter who was reportedly arrested for several serious crimes including burglary, assault and drug possession. This same firefighter was hired in Memphis after being fired from another nearby agency for having an undisclosed felony conviction.

Frankly, it surprises me that a department would hire someone with a felony conviction. Especially a department the size of Memphis. I assume they are doing background checks on potential employees. If not, they should be. The potential liability of hiring a convicted felon and then having him commit a criminal act while on duty is immense, not to mention the beating a department would receive from the media.

Applicants to the KBFPD have to submit a large background packet. The details are verified by a private investigation company. A criminal background check is conducted, as is a psychological evaluation and a polygraph examination.  The process takes up to two months when added with a physical exam. It isn't cheap, but neither is litigation.

The thorough background check wasn't always the case. When I was hired by the K.B.F.P.D. in the early '80s, you filled out a 5 page packet and then Captain Hatchet made a few phone calls based on the information you provided. It wasn't very thorough. It wasn't until after one of our members was convicted of a violent crime that the more in-depth backgrounds began.

When I went into the Arson Unit in the '90s, I had to take the psychological profile battery before the department would issue me a weapon. Much to my surprise, I passed. That was the same battery that new firefighters are required to pass before being hired and it washes quite a few candidates out of the process.

Despite all of that, we have still had a few members that have ran afoul of the law. Mostly substance abuse related, all are still employed by us. They are all on "double secret probation" and must meet stringent testing requirements. All have had to enter some form of treatment program and as far as know, all are still on the wagon. I hope they don't fall off, I don't think there will be any second chances.

Looking at the numbers, our figures don't appear to be anywhere near as bad as Memphis or Pittsburgh per-capita.  Perhaps the background investigations have paid off for us. I hope both of those organizations can resolve these issues and restore their position in the community. They need to mind their Ps and Qs.

Thanks for reading,


  1. I tell my kids to mind their p's and q's while we're in church; I'm not sure what it means but they seem to get it...maybe it has something to do with the un-Christian death glare fixed upon them by Mommie dearest.

    Your shank-eye must be working ok, no scandals from your crew, I trust.

  2. Oh no Mrs. B, we of Engine 226 "B" make a point of behaving ourselves. We have seen where the path of unruly behavior leads and we want no part of that. Hence our outstanding inspection!
    (I haven't seen the report yet, but my boss tells me it's great)

    I wonder if the Ps and Qs thing is an Indiana / Illinois thing, that's where Grandma was from. Maybe it has to do with the similarity of lower case p and q and the need to mind them when cipherin' on slates and such.

    Regardless, it worked.

  3. One origin story of "mind your Ps and Qs" comes from English pubs and taverns of the seventeenth century. Bartenders would keep a watch on the alcohol consumption of the patrons; keeping an eye on the pints and quarts that were consumed. As a reminder to the patrons, the bartender would recommend they "mind their Ps and Qs" How appropriate Capt. if the troubles with the law are alcohol related! Congratulations on the inspection! Stay safe!

  4. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    We used to say it too! However, one of my parents was from Illinois and the other from Ohio, so there might be something in what you say.

    That report must rock, if you're hearing good things early. Congratulations!

    The virtuous win in the end, and sometimes more than that,
    Ann T.

  5. Seconding what Gia said, that's what I've read too.

  6. P's and Q's? No idea, all I know is I've been minding mine since Nana told me to back in '62!

    And that is in New England.

  7. Oh the trouble I got in as a kid from not minding my p's and q's. But you've probably guessed this about me by now. :)

    oh and add Jersey to the list of compliant p & q using states....