Bullying in Fire and EMS Agencies

Source: Jacek Dudzinski - 123RF

According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), in an article written by Chief I. David Daniels in June 2017, “Society as a whole has an issue with bullying, harassment, and violence, so to assume that the fire and emergency service is immune is at best naïve, at worst, disingenuous”.

EMS providers and firefighters face violent situations, traumatic incidents, social isolation from family and friends, long work hours, high call volume and constant pressure from employers to perform.

According to The Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is defined as repeated mistreatment, abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, work sabotage, or verbal abuse. According to the Institute, “72% of bullies are bosses.”

Bullying is “abusive conduct,” referring to its most serious forms only. This is consistent with the definition used in the Healthy Workplace Bill. Even with this high threshold, workplace bullying remains an American epidemic.

The 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey showed that 27 percent of workers have experienced bullying at work. In that survey, 69 percent of bullies were male, while 60 percent of the targets of bullying were female.

In the fire service, bullying and harassment have been identified as ongoing problems, especially among female firefighters. According to the NPFA in 2012, the most recent year available, only 3.4 percent of career firefighters in the United States were female.

Female firefighters have expressed that they do not feel like they are treated as equals with their male peers and report significantly higher rates of workplace bullying and harassment than their male co-workers.

In a study of 339 firefighters, 54 percent of female firefighters indicated they were not treated as equals, however, 84 percent of female firefighters said they would still enter the fire service.

The 2008 National Report Card on Women in Firefighting interviewed 675 firefighters in 48 states, 175 of which were female firefighters. Eighty-five percent of the females surveyed reported that they had been treated differently due to their gender versus 12.4 percent of the males surveyed.

Fifty-one percent of females reported being shunned, versus two percent of males. Forty-three percent of females reported experiencing verbal harassment versus three percent of males.

Females also reported experiencing exposure to pornography, unwanted sexual advances, and hostile notes at rates at least 15 times greater than the male respondents reported.