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ETHICAL SCENARIOS. A team based approach. Presentation provided by the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Training Committee. ETHICAL SCENARIOS.

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ethical scenarios


A team based approach

Presentation provided by the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Training Committee

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  • There are many ethical situations that all employees and supervisors must manage in their daily lives. These situations often have extenuating circumstances that do not allow a “one-size-fits- all” approach to supervising.
  • The goal of this training is to require an individual (both supervisor and employee) to think of alternative solutions to successfully mitigate the problem.
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On November 2, D.C. firefighters were alerted about a house fire. 21-year fire veteran Lt. Gerald Burton was several blocks away, driving a fire engine to a training class. He called his supervisor to say he was near the fire and could help. The supervisor told Burton not to go to the fire, and ordered him to continue on to the training class. When Burton's truck was about two blocks from the fire, he was flagged down by bystanders who told him that a home was burning. Burton drove to the address, and saw that it was indeed on fire.

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Burton again alerted his supervisor, who this time told him to play a backup role rather than a frontline role in fighting the fire. But he and another firefighter riding with him were the only firefighters on the scene, so they extinguished the flames before the "frontline" firefighters had time to arrive.

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Burton is facing a two-day suspension without pay for disobeying an order. Disobeying the order, in this case, meant placing the safety of community residents and their property above protocol.

Do you feel Lt. Burton made the right choice?

Burton made the right choice: his supervisor's orders were unreasonable and risky, and he was correct to disobey them. The department needs to acknowledge that sometimes the most ethical conduct involves breaking the rules

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  • To start this training, the class should be divided into two distinct groups.
  • Ensure that there are an equal mix of seniority/rank in each group.
    • The groups will have alternate roles for each scenario.
    • Each group will play the role of either supervisor or employee during the different scenarios.
  • The instructor will read the scenario and the groups will have 3-5 minutes to outline a response and course of action to be taken.
  • Regardless of your rank or experience, attempt to justify your actions as outlined in the scenario.
  • The goal of the instructor should be to encourage discussion and ask follow-up questions based on answers.


Group 1:

As the supervisor how would you handle this situation?


As the employee defend your actions.

Scenario 1:An employee consistently comes in at the last minute before shift change. He/she has never been late but it has caused employees being relieved to occasionally run a call causing overtime. Other members have discussed this with the employee without any change in behavior.

  • What if the employee has a special needs child requiring advanced care. Regardless of outcome, he/she would not be able to come in any earlier. Do you feel obligated to treat this employee different from someone that is single, without children?
Group 1:

As the employee, do you feel obligated to change your behavior?

Group 2:

As a crew member, what persuasive arguments would you use to try to stop the behavior in question?

Scenario 2:A senior member of a crew has a behavior based issue: smoking, weight, drinking, staying up late, overexertion when weight training, not working out etc. While there are no specific functions the employee has not been able to perform, you believe this employee appears at times physically to perform the job safely.

  • Is there an ethical issue?
Group 1:

As a member of the crew, what are your thoughts on how this situation should be handled?

Group 2:

As the Lieutenant, if you have not missed any deadlines or faltered operationally, do you feel obligated to change your behavior? Explain

Scenario 3:A station Lieutenant is also the owner of a business. The Lieutenant spends an extraordinary amount of time every shift managing the business and spending numerous hours on the cell phone. The Lieutenant also uses the cell phone to make business calls while responding to emergencies and while on emergency scenes.

  • The phone calls and business work have steadily increased during the last eight months due to the economy. If the business fails, the Lt. may be forced to declare bankruptcy and loose his home. Does this change you opinion of this action?

Should the department write a policy to address this situation?

Group 1:

As the Lieutenant, your driver advises you of this situation. What would you do?

Group 2:

As the acting driver, what would you do?

Scenario 4:You are the senior firefighter working out of class as the driver of a 3-person crew with a probationary firefighter. The firefighter comes to work on a holiday morning and you notice the employee looks very tired, bloodshot eyes and tells you he/she “partied” last night. The station Lieutenant has been filing paperwork in the office and has not noticed the employees appearance.


  • As the Fire Chief you have been advised of this situation, what punishment would you recommend?
  • What punishment would you recommend if this employee was not on probation?
Group 1:

As the Lieutenant, how do you handle this situation?

Group 2:

As the driver of the truck, you are advised by the station Lt. about the concerns. How do you handle this situation?

Scenario 5:You are a firefighter/paramedic on a two-person rescue truck. You complain to the station officer that you feel the driver on the truck often drives slowly to calls in an attempt to be cancelled. You are concerned that his/her actions may be placing your license at risk if you fail to provide ALS in a timely manner.


Would the actions of the driver be justified if at any time he/she had been involved in a serious accident while responding emergency? Would this change your opinion of the driver’s actions?

Group 1:

As the driver, do you feel obligated to eat dinner and assist with clean-up? Defend your actions.

Group 2:

Supervisor-How would you handle this situation?

Scenario 6:Each shift, your crew eats dinner together and everyone assists with clean-up. Crews are re-arranged and you receive a driver with a history of having a negative attitude. The driver doesn’t eat dinner with the crew and does not feel obligated to help with clean-up. Crew integrity is faltering which is causing growing anxiety and animosity each shift.

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  • Ethics can be considered moral values. They are also open to interpretation.
  • A fire officer must weigh each situation carefully to ensure they are acting in an ethical manner.
  • They must also recognize that there may be circumstances that would alter what would normally be considered a simple decision.
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