Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yours Truly, the Social Worker

 There are a lot of things they didn't tell me when I signed onto this job. Being a Captain in an EMS Squad was, I knew, a big undertaking. I thought I was prepared, and mostly, I was. By most accounts, I do a pretty fair job, but even after 4 years as an Officer, I am still getting surprised.
 This week I received a scathing email from one of my newer members. Without getting into details, let me just say that this email was very critical of the way I treated this individual member, which was mostly as a child because the member is in his/her mid-twenties. The person was hurt, and disheartened to the point that I suspected he/she would just quit. I've seen it before, too many times. The problem here was that the email, actually a series of emails, indicated a long list of offenses on my part as well as many other folks wherein the person was taken to task and talked down to. The rage and hurt in the writing was clear and stunning.
 The first email got me so upset that I dropped my plans for the evening and replied immediately to calm this person down and assure him/her that we needed to speak in person and work this out. I gave all assurances that indeed we had no perception that this person was a child and in fact the opposite was true. This person was a very valuable asset and I listed the reasons why. Obviously there was a misunderstanding and I planned on correcting it. The next day, I contacted one of my junior officers to inform and sensitize him to the situation as well as seek his counsel because of his long experience managing people.
 Long story short: It got worse before it got better, but after 2 hours on the phone with the member we were 'all good'. I learned many things about this members perceptions, how I am perceived by some members, and how I can be an idiot at times. The member learned some things about effective communications and making one's needs understood, as well as some of the things that the Captain is concerned with, about which this member had not really fully considered. (He/she had no idea how dangerous this job can be and the fact that I have been involved in some really horrible things including LODD's and that I try to protect new members from this until they demonstrate a complete understanding.) We also agreed that 'new member' does not mean 'young member' and when he/she realized that I do the same thing with all 'new members' regardless of age, most of the objections faded away.
 It all worked out well and we have a stronger relationship now. I would hate to have lost this member because the contribution that he/she makes is considerable, but more important, this person is exceptional and will excel in what ever course life takes her/him on. I'd very much like to be this person's friend during that ride and help her/him if I can. Ironically, early in the phone conversation while the member was still in the stage of a screaming rant at me, she/he kept interjecting comments like 'look, don't get me wrong, you are by FAR the best Officer in the Department and you have taught me everything I know. You have never given me bad information. You always took time for me when I needed it. You made yourself available 24/7, BUT....'
 After I made followup calls on that issue, I received a call from another member confessing an unfortunate run in with the legal system earlier in the week. I had read about it in the 'police beat' column of the paper. Although the issue is minor from a social/community standpoint, it brings expensive court fees, lawyers, and possible loss of employment because of security issues. She/he is sick and remorseful over it. My confidence in this member is not diminished in any way. It's the type of offense that could happen to almost anyone and the public humiliation is probably the worst part of it because it affects one's family and friends the most. The member wanted to know how this would affect their activity in the Department. I explained that we have dealt with this before and had a standard procedure. There was one restriction that the member could no longer perform, but all other duties remained in effect pending the outcome of the court proceedings. It's a fair system although some of our members who think themselves above any issues like this believe the offending member should be cast aside like a rotten egg. Of course many of these folks have made mistakes in their own pasts, they just don't realize we know about it. If we threw out every member that had ever been arrested in their life or made a mistake in the past, I believe we would have a hard time staffing a first due fire response.
So I calmed the member down, assured them it is an administrative proceedure and there will be due process IF it is required. Most likely it would not be required.

 At some point I went from being an Officer to being a Social Worker. I don't know how that happened, but the emotional drain of keeping 35 people happy and working together is really wearing me out. I'd really like to know how other volunteer Officers deal with this stuff. How much do you get involved? Where do you draw the line? At some point do you want to shut off the phone and crawl under a blanket? In all honesty, sometimes I think I go too far. I'd like to know what others think.

1 comment:

  1. I've been an operational office for almost a year, prior to that I was an administrative officer for a few years but did some operational stuff. We have a staff similar to yours. I'm overly involved and always have been, I actually suspended a member while on vacation lol wow and in some ways it's a curse, but some ways it's a blessing. Most of the members come to me for problems, I know everyone's significant others names, kids names, schedules, etc. It makes it easier for me to ask for scheduling fills when I know so and so has soccer practice this day but works that day. It also helps me decide who can do an assigned task. Some days I want to throw my phone out of the window, but they know where I work and randomly show up. The good days out weigh the bad, though.

    Sorry if this answer is very stream of consciousness, I'm a little tired.