Perceptions. Life in the Public Eye

The other night on my way home from dinner with my wife, we decided to stop for a quick drink. I don’t know about anyone else, but every time I walk into any type of building or store I always take a quick survey around. I look at the atmosphere, type of clientele, décor, entrances, exits, and even the type of building construction. Shortly after we sat down I noticed a group of firefighters at the bar hanging out, drinking, and having a good time.

I was glad to see that they were getting along so well, and it was nice to see the wide range of ages within the group. Having friendships outside the firehouse is also a very good thing to have as it helps build a stronger connection and a more cohesive group. However, the question that is raised is how did I know they were firefighters? Well, the answer to that is actually simple. The group were all wearing company clothing; t-shirts, job shirts, and a few were even in full station wear uniform.

As the night progressed and I was enjoying my time with my wife I couldn’t help but notice the group of firefighters having beer after beer and shot after shot. They were getting louder and louder and rowdier and rowdier. It was unmistakable as to the fact that they were there and who they were.

The object of this post is not to put anyone down, make me out to be an angel, to rip on anyone. The object of this post is to try to bring the concept of Perception in the Public Eye to light. Hanging out with the guys and enjoying each other’s company and having a good time. There is a point though where you have to be smart about it.

The citizens we are responsible to protect call us in their hour of need. They know that if they need help the fire department will always be there. As public servants, we are often looked at in a different manner and all too often held to a much higher standard in the publics eyes. Anytime we are out in public wearing shirts, hats, jackets, job-shirts, uniforms, or anything related to our department we turn into walking billboards and automatically people start paying more attention to us, weather we know it or not.

As we all know, social media is a huge part of everyday life. Basically everyone has a camera phone and instant access to multiple different forms of social media platforms. By wearing any type of company attire while drinking and carrying on it opens yourself up for a ton of negative publicity. All it would take is one person to take a picture and post it to social media and spin a caption in a negative light. It doesn’t matter if what is posted is exactly what happened or not, what matters is people will see people in uniforms drinking and carrying on. Then every time they see someone in uniform they will remember what they saw.

It is alright to go out and have fun, everyone has to be able to have a good time. You just have to remember to be smart about it. Remember how you act and what you wear reflects not only on you, but your department, and the entire fire service family. Always try to conduct yourself as if someone is always watching, because when you are wearing company attire you are putting yourself under the microscope of public perception.

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 15 years in the fire service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.