Sunday, January 9, 2011

Firefighters vs. Cops

While perusing through my Google Reader blog list this morning, I came across this post by Mr. Police Man.
 It posed a good question. Why is it that cops and firemen often don't get along all that well?

I am sure that many of us have seen the funny videos on You-Tube and have read the various stereotypical jokes on the cop and fire blogs. As with most humor, there is usually some element of truth to them, though it is usually very minor and shouldn't really be used to compare the two groups.

I, like Mr. Police Man, have friends that wear the other shape of badge. It would appear that my oldest son may be pursuing that line of work at some point in the future. As I did some time in the Arson Bureau, my partners were detectives from a local law enforcement agency.  I've been able to look through a slightly ajar door into cop land and I think it enlightened me as to why there are some fundamental differences between the two groups.

The very nature of the two jobs is different. Though there are some significant similarities, the emotional and psychological approach to them is entirely different. These differences are necessary to the well being of both groups. The mindset of one group and the way they approach their job isn't going to work well for the other. Theses different mindsets are ingrained in cadets from the time they start their intro class, through their perspective  academies and then into their initial time in the field. The nature of their /our jobs require these different mindsets - it is a matter of survival for the cops.

My level of training as an arson investigator was nowhere near that of a street cop. I did however, take numerous law enforcement courses which enabled me to do my job. One of the major mantras that I heard throughout my POST and other training was that maintaining your situational awareness always, on duty and off was critical and that one was never to place himself in a tactical disadvantage, whether dealing with a suspect or shopping with the wife.

While I believe those concepts are absolutely critical for the survival of cops, I also believe that an "us vs. them" mindset may be an unwanted side effect. Firefighters are in a kind of limbo when to comes to this phenomenon - to cops, we really aren't "us" nor are we "them".

Another factor in the equation is that we actually compete for resources, both personal and departmental. Both departments are struggling for budget dollars, both bargaining groups are negotiating for wages and benefits out of the same funding source. My agency usually gets along OK with the various law enforcement agencies except for two specific times. The first is election time, especially if we are supporting different candidates in local elections.  The other is negotiating time. As my association negotiates with the county at the same time as the sheriff's association, it can get kind of ugly.

Women can cause conflict. Sometimes, members of both groups are competing for the attention of a certain female, that leads to an increase of ill will. We have had some of our members date the ex-wives of cops, a situation that was not well received among some of our b-band brothers. The wives of a few of our members have had cops waiting in the wings, should the relationship go bad - again not a situation to improve cop - firefighter relations.

I also think there is a small jealousy factor at times. We DO have a better schedule and the public DOES tend to love us a little more. But, the reality is that I know I am not suited to the Po-Po gig and I suspect many cops are not suited to mine.

Having said all of that, the best that I think we can really hope for is kind of a brotherly love situation where we might fuss over some things, but when it really matters, we have each others backs.

This is why I say that:


Firefighters along with officers, carrying a mortally wounded officer out of a house with the armed suspect holed up in another part of the house. The scene was not secure and there was really no cover or concealment. Their only defense was other officers covering their route through the yard and down the street to the ambulance. One of the firefighters involved in that episode is a friend of mine, the incident screwed him up for a while. Tragically their efforts were to no avail.


A couple of our firefighters were received atta-boys after stopping to assist a deputy who was involved in a celebrity death-match with a local denizen. The fight had been going on for a little while and the denizen was getting the better of the deal. For some reason, back-up for the officer was delayed. The rescue happened to be driving by, saw what was occurring and jumped in. It still took a while to resolve the issue, but the good guys prevailed.

On another occasion, one of our members, along with a couple of officers, performed a flag ceremony over the body of a fallen officer. Most of the local sheriff's honor guard was busy looking for the suspect and were not available. Our firefighter happened to be a member of the honor guard and was able to quickly obtain a flag and perform the ceremony. I choked up when he told me about it, just as I am now.


The reasons why we may fuss at times are many and varied. When pared to the core however, it really doesn't matter. The reality is when the shit hits the fan, I have your back Mr. Police Man and I trust you have mine.

Thanks for reading,


  1. My suave looking and smooth talking counterpart Motorcop and I take on this issue in a new podcast

  2. Cap,
    I love cops, my dad was a cop, but all you say rings true. It seems like the FFs are always extending the olive branches, and the cops always get defensive. I think the difference in working conditions plays a part as well-firefighters work in teams, cops are usually alone or in pairs. The differences also explain why public safety suffers when short-sighted cities go to "save money" and adopt the Combined Public safety Officer concept.

  3. Dear Captain,
    This is such a thoughtful post and a nice glimpse into the world of good (and bad) will out in the "Zone of Societal Extremity." For both your sakes, I hope you guys/gals continue to work it out.

    Thanks for a great read.
    Ann T.

  4. John - The "public safety dept" concept has been tried in many places and hasn't really succeeded in but a few. The other side of the coin is when the city/county sees a benefit in keeping the two groups at odds with each other. Both strategies are economically motivated.

    Ann T - It is what it is, we will always work to grt it done.

    Commchick - Thanks for the props.