Creating Excellence in Roanoke

Comments: 3

Over the years I have heard of so much kitchen table chatter about how to correct the issues, build on excellence, and make Roanoke Fire-EMS better. I thought I would jot down some of the ones which came to mind. Some of these are long term issues, others are immediate changes which could take place. Some cost money, others do not. Some are for the betterment of the City of Roanoke and others are for a simple boost in morale. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Some of these are personal changes, others departmental changes, and yet others are City of Roanoke changes. I am merely pointing out some areas of potential improvement. All in all, I believe that most firefighters are content with the department. However, we do have hopes for the future and we want to make the department the best it can be just as much as the next guy.


  • Honor transfer requests – Allow Captains to offer feedback (yeah or nay) on honoring transfers.
  • Invest in Seniority – Too little regard is given to seniority. Seniority should mean something!
  • Award firefighters for achievements and acts of courage outside of the Star City Award and Union citations and Firefighter of the Year award.
  • Allow us to wash vehicles. This is not a big one for all of us, but it will be a boost for morale. I am  certain of it.

Company Pride

  • Keep moves to a minimum – There is no need to stir up company’s who work well together.
  • Put the power back in the company – Return some of the power to Captains which has been taken away due to micro-managing.
  • Allow company logos, mascots, and patches. This breeds company pride and a sense of camaraderie among the stations.

Dress Code

  • Issue numbered badges – this might give the firefighters a sense of identity within the department.
  • Dress Code – Whether you like it or not, blue t-shirts do not show our professionalism. Bring back the badge shirts more. Badge shirts are professional and should be worn more often.
  • Dress Code – lose the bdu’s and go with straight leg pants…again they look more professional.
  • Invest in clothing that is more durable, looks better, and lasts longer.
  • Develop a replacement plan for our Class A uniforms. Most of our Class A uniforms are hand-me-downs which have been in circulation for 30 years.
  • Issue stove pipe hats for Class A uniforms. While my terminology might be off in identifying them as “stove pipe” hats, issue the ones that many firefighters are purchasing on their own. They look so much better than the “bus driver” hats we have been wearing for the past 30 years.
  • Develop identifiers on our Class A uniforms for seniority.
  • Develop awards and ribbons for certain achievements and/or acts of courage to decorate our Class A uniforms. You may view Houston’s medals here. This link has some decent information on when, where, and how to wear medals.

Pay and Benefits (probably the most important)

  • Make necessary changes to the disability retirement policy. We are willing to give life and limb for our customers, yet we MAY not be afforded the benefit of getting a disability retirement if we are injured.
  • Improve pay – while I understand that we are in a budget crunch, at least identify that our pay scale is in need of a facelift.
  • Cost of living raise – this is probably the easiest sell to the tax payers. Bring back the cost of living raise which City employees lost in the early 90′s. In case anyone is keeping track, we have not had a raise in over 2 years….not the first cent. YET, taxes have increased (depending on where you live), health insurance premiums have gone up, and in general most things cost more and more each year.
  • Pay for instructors – The expectations for free labor is getting out of control. There is no reason why we aren’t paying our instructors to teach recruit school off duty. There is also no reason why firefighters are working for free…Period…Ever. Your knowledge is worth something. Don’t diminish the worth of your knowledge by working for free.
  • Offer a variance for firefighters who obtain the certification level of EMT-Paramedic. Offering them the same as EMT-Intermediate breeds mediocrity. There is no reason why firefighters who are also Paramedics are not monetarily compensated for their schooling, responsibility, and added skill sets.
  • Offer career development pay like the Police Department. Firefighters should be awarded for having a post high school education, special certifications, seniority, and other criteria.
  • Bring back our $25 match for ICMA…from the minute it was taken away.
  • Allow other options for 457 plan outside of ICMA….with the match.

Rank Structure

  • Get rid of the 1st Lieutenant  rank. Offer the Captain rank at 10% over the Lieutenant rank. Place Captains on the right seat of the ladders as well as the engine just like it used to be. The 1st Lieutanant rank serves no purpose. This is proven by the recent promotion of Lieutenants to Captain rank and skipping the 1st Lieutenant rank.
  • Align firefighter pay with patrol officers pay. There is no reason why PD Officers get a step raise upon completion of recruit school and firefighters do not. Pay parity has a lot to do with positive morale.


  • Put more emphasis on the fact that the department is made up of some very knowledgable, experienced, and top notch firefighters.
  • Ensure that the issue with our radios has been fixed or is fixed soon. Just the other day, firefighters in another City had a VERY close call after their MAYDAY was not transmitted over the air due to issues with their radios.
  • Put firefighters through EMT-Intermediate class either in recruit school, on shift, or during a 40 hour work week. Either of the three choices would be better for all parties than the system we have in place now.
  • Create a plan to issue two sets of turnout gear to firefighters. Turnout gear would last longer, and we would be more comfortable post structure fire if we had two sets. Nobody likes responding on EMS calls wearing wet/dirty turnout gear once they return from a structure fire.
  • Issue leather firefighting boots. All of this talk of budget woes and we are still issuing rubber boots that probably only 25% of the department wears. You can go in any station and see a collection of rubber boots on the tops of gear lockers.
  • Promotions – There are issues with promotions that you hear about every year. This year we had issues that I have only heard about once before. The whole situation was very unfortunate. I figure the best way to overcome the challenges with making promotions as fair and equitable as possible is to have a committee come up with recommendations….or just do like Detroit and promote solely on seniority.

The idea for this post is to be constructive, not as a finger pointing session. Please feel free to weigh in on these issues in the comments section or to add your own ideas. There is a very good possibility that I left out some very good ideas.


3 Responses to “Creating Excellence in Roanoke”
  1. Mufasa says:

    First of all, Good post to get some discussion started. Here are my thoughts.
    Moral: I agree with your ideas plus I think admin should restore some of the little perks that don’t cost anything like washing cars and stuff. I think most of us realize that budgets are tight right now but if it goes on too long people will become more and more disenfranchised.

    Company Pride: I couldn’t agree more with your comment on transfers. As for the logos and such. I think they are mostly going along with all that now.

    Rank: I have to disagree about the 1st Lts. I really believe that no good can come from having two captains in one station without a clear line of who is in charge. It was problematic before and I think it would be even worse today given the competitive nature of many of our current officers. I agree there are some issues with the 1st Lts. but I don’t think total elimination is it.

    Operations: Agree with the leather boots comment. In fact, I would say 25% is over stated. I know leather boots cost more, but buying the rubber ones is really a waste of money. Perhaps if we choose to get leather boots we could forgo the rubber ones and get an allowance equal to the cost of the rubber ones.
    I disagree on two sets ot turnout gear. I agree it is no fun to wear wet gear, but the cost of outfitting everyone with two sets would be huge. BTW most of us don’t wear turnout gear on EMS calls except wrecks anyway. Spend the money on something else.

    Just one more comment having to do with brotherhood. I think we all will look out after our own best interest when it comes down to it as it should be. However, I think we should all try to consider the unintended consequences of our actions on others before we react. Many of us like to say firemen are their own worst enemy and often that is because we are overly reactionary.I guess fireman are often passionate people by nature, but I think we could all be served better by slowing down a bit to consider the effects of our actions.

    That’s all I have. Once again, thanks for the post I think it will promote some good discussion.

  2. FireFleitz says:

    Good point about morale. I will add that an another one or two I came up with.

    I understand your point about two sets of turnout gear. Obviously money would be an issue.

    I also really like your comment about reactions. I have been focusing a lot on what is reaction and what is response. I am trying to implement changes in my life to be more responsive and less reaction.

  3. wormwood says:

    Excellence or mediocrity? So who are the great pretenders?
    I’m glad to see you’re back. I thought you had quit this blog due to your other interests and the fear of retaliation from downtown. You don’t have to print this if you don’t want to.

    Rhett, do you really believe that most firefighters are content with the department?
    I can’t believe you said that. Whew, I’ll hold my thoughts on that.

    So what are the big issues that need addressed?
    You said, Pay and Benefits (are) (probably the most important).
    They are certainly the MOST important issues!
    How we are treated!!!!!!! We have been treated very badly for a long time.
    I hope things will be better under the new city manager, but Grigs needs to go too.
    Disability retirement policy, improved pay, cost of living raise, career development pay, instructor pay; yes yes yes!
    Forget ICMA…find a 457 plan outside of ICMA. Why should we contribute to city managers when we have been hurt so bad by this one.

    Invest in Seniority – Too little regard is given to seniority. Seniority should mean something!
    Keep moves to a minimum – no it isn’t done for the good of the department, it’s just because I can!
    Stop micro-managing.

    YES!!! Get rid of the 1st Lieutenant rank

    Promotions are pretty much a joke! HR should run an investigation and revamp the process. Our best people don’t get promoted. Suck ups do. (Yes, a few goods ones get through, thank God) Management manipulates the system to get their picks. No one was promoted from the last list. Then with the new list they very quickly promoted and over-promoted! What? They should have promoted from the other list and not tested again.
    Doesn’t this strike you as suspicious, maybe even unethical?
    And they knew the guys from ARFF would be coming back, and they are all officers.
    What’s up? Somebody say it for me.

    Lose the bdu’s!! Hell yes. Update Class-A uniforms? – Yes.
    Develop identifiers on our Class-A uniforms for seniority.

    Management is a big issue. Shall we address that? We already have.
    The city is apparently broke! Care to comment on that, and how it got that way? Maybe we should hire some more consultants!

    Okay, that’s enough for now.
    Thanks for listening.

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