Blog by Doug Cline
Chief of Operations with Horry County Fire Rescue (S.C.)

Some think you can just peal one firefighters name off the wall and replace it with another. Some have used the analogy that it will be the same circus but with different clowns.

This generalization couldn’t be more inaccurate. What we really have in today’s fire service are three types of folks: Shiners, Whiners and Recliners. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of these three types of individuals who make up todays fire service.

Shiners: This group is the backbone of the fire service. It keeps us moving. These individuals work tirelessly to make the fire service more professional, safer and better educated. They are focused on working to improve the safety of the community.

Shiners are self-motivated and always looking to make the system better. They are team players who truly care about the fire service. They are driven to find better ways to do their jobs.

Success is very important to a Shiner. They are never content with the status quo and are highly organized. In fact, a Shiner’s desire to keep things in order might be considered obsessive-compulsive.

Shiners don’t care, they’re about being the very best firefighter they can be, and helping others do the same.

Whiners and Recliners: They both do exactly that, Whiners whine and Recliners recline!

Whiners have a tendency to always be complaining and not working. But they like being bored; it gives them something to whine about. They dismiss new ideas and believe the status quo is good.

“It has worked for the last 20 years so why do we need to go changing?” they say.

For Recliners, success is measured by how much time they spend doing nothing. Their mindset is that the more they do, the more will be expected. Some have the mentality that all they were hired to do was run calls and fight fires.

Maybe with their feet propped up and head laid back that is all they see. Unfortunately, they never make it out of the station to see that the job demands more and the public deserves more.

Firefighters work and live in group environments. From their very first day walking into a fire station, recruits learn that the fire service functions in a team environment. Firefighters train in groups, work in groups, live in groups and eat in groups. This close interaction favors people who are trusting, cooperative, dependable and determined.

Because firefighters share so much of their lives with each other, they generally build team values, foster increased team cohesion and identify each member’s strengths and weaknesses.

However, some firefighter personality traits conflict with the team environment. In an interesting look at how firefighters work together, a study on work-injury frequency and duration found that when firefighters cooperated in groups, injury rates were lower than when firefighters didn’t interact with each other.

Firefighters who are reluctant to interact with other firefighters may in fact be reluctant to ask for help when they’re in trouble, possibly leaving them at risk of injury. So we can see that the Shiners, who are always training and learning, are our lowest risk to injuries.

The Recliners are most prone to injury since they have not trained or worked much with the other groups. Heck, it is tough getting up out of the recliner and doing something!

During my 28 years in the fire service, I’ve rarely witnessed a Shiner give up on a task. Shiners work at all cost to complete an assignment; sometimes even placing them at risk for the betterment of the task. Failure isn’t in the Shiners vocabulary. When they are faced with a failed mission, they take it personally.

On the other hand, Whiners are usually far too quick to embrace failure. They will just blame it on someone else and say they knew it would not work from the start.

The Recliners view on this is well, if we sit around long enough, someone else will do it or it will go away and we won’t have to deal with it. And they are absolutely right, a Shiner will probably come along and get it done.

Firefighters are people who will place their own lives in jeopardy in order to save a life. They enter the fire service knowing this is a high-risk occupation. But there’s no denying there are three distinct types of firefighters in our ranks. These are the types of people we need to manage and find ways to motivate. My advice for Shiners, Whiners and Recliners is: keep the Shiners motivated, give the Whiners plenty to whine about and get rid of the Recliners. They are dead weight.

About the Author
Douglas Cline, a 32-year veteran and student of the fire service, serves as assistant chief of operations with Horry County Fire Recue (S.C.). Cline is the President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC), a member of the North Carolina Society of Fire and Rescue Instructors and the 1st Vice President International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI).