The professions of police officer and firefighter are grueling career paths that require dedication and hard work. Both are more than just a job. Being a cop affects every aspect of the officer’s life. While for firefighters, the job is what they live for, the rush of being a hero.
Do cops and firefighters get along? Because lives are on the line, police officers and firefighters have had to learn how to work together as a team. But that doesn’t mean they always get along. Ever since firefighters jumped into the ring of handling more types of emergencies than just fires, there has been a turf war-like rivalry between the two civil services.
Small battles have erupted between cops and firefighters on a number of occasions at the scene of an accident and other emergencies across the United States. Many of the altercations have ended in arrests which only exacerbates the rivalry between firefighters and cops.
Are Cops and Firefighters Rivals?
Yes, cops and firefighters are rivals and have been for quite some time. But they both have the same job of helping people in need, how can they be rivals you ask? The same way sports teams can be rivals.
A rivalry stems from the drive to compete for the same goal. Sports teams develop rivals after years of competing against each other for the big trophy. When it comes to the rivalry between cops and firefighters, being in charge of the scene is the big trophy and one’s ego is often their downfall.
Who’s Calling the Plays
In nearly every instance of police officer-firefighter altercations, the problem comes down to who has authority over the scene and who is expected to take direction from that authority. Sometimes the line of authority can be blurry when the police are investigating a crime scene that is also the scene of a victim rescue.
Police officers in Queens, New York, arrived to investigate a burglary in progress. It seems the would-be thief became trapped in the chimney of a popular Italian restaurant. The fire department had been called to the scene to extract the thief-turned-victim.
A disagreement regarding a firefighter entering a closed crime scene resulted in a police officer shoving the firefighter. During his stumble, the firefighter tripped over a toolbox and injured his knee. The police officer subsequently arrested the firefighter charging him with obstructing government administration. Translation: not doing what I said, don’t enter the crime scene.
In this instance, the firefighter had received instruction from his commanding officer to enter the restaurant and rescue the trapped victim. The officer mishandled the situation when he forcefully grabbed the firefighter. Had the officer treated the fellow civil servant with respect and communicated his request without putting his hands on the firefighter, the situation could have been resolved without incident.
Another factor that often comes into play during police officer-firefighter altercations is the location of the incident. Police officers have always been the go-to emergency responders when it comes to vehicular accidents. It has been their job to assess the scene, offer first aid, and file a report on what happened.
Now that firefighters have the role of EMTs, they often arrive on the scene of car accidents before the police get there. Such is the case in this next story of a police officer versus a firefighter. A rollover car accident along a California highway ends with a police officer restraining a firefighter with handcuffs and placing him in the patrol car for roughly 30 minutes before being released.
The argument that occurred in this situation centered around where the fire truck had been parked when it arrived first on the scene. The officer believed as a highway patrolman that he held jurisdiction of the scene since the wreck happened on a highway. When the firefighter refused to follow the officer’s order to move the truck, the officer placed him under arrest.
Proper communication between the police officer and the firefighter may have led to a different outcome. The unknown element in this scenario is the reason why the officer wanted the truck to be moved. Perhaps he had a legitimate reason concerning managing traffic flow or the safety of the responders on the scene or maybe he was just throwing his weight around as a highway patrol officer.
Respect the Expert
All first responders have specific skills fitting the situations they face. Most first responders have to undergo rigorous training with regard to proper procedure and protocol. Knowing the right way to handle a situation can be a matter of life and death in the line of duty for police officers and firefighters.
Fighting fires is a science that requires special knowledge about how fires behave. Making a mistake could prove to be deadly. Firefighters practice putting out fires to learn first hand what can happen in a real emergency.
Police officers are sometimes on the scene of a fire emergency to help keep civilians out of the firefighter’s way. When everyone does the job they know how to do, things will run relatively smoothly. Unfortunately in some emergencies, tempers can flare, harsh words are exchanged, egos are bruised, and someone gets arrested.
A homeowner in Indiana stood in shocked silence as his house burned to the ground because the local police officer had arrested the fire chief and sent the fire crew packing. What led to this unusual arrest? An altercation between the officer and the fire chief when the police officer attempted to break a window of an unchecked room and the fire chief showed the cop while yelling to get off his scene.
Any firefighter can tell you that breaking that window would feed oxygen to the fire making the situation explosively dangerous for firefighters fighting the blaze and anyone still trapped inside. The fire chief’s actions were an attempt at preventing the police officer from causing more harm and damage to the already dangerous structure fire.
Rather than turn over the reins to the expert on the scene, the police officer chose to arrest the fire chief for battery against a police officer. He then proclaimed the police were in charge of the scene and demanded the fire crew pack up and leave. During this ordeal, the house continued to burn, resulting in a total loss.
Thankfully this tragic tale had no loss of life but the scars on the community will be felt for some time. Residents have to wonder if they can count on those who are there to keep them safe. They had expectations and entrusted those police officers and firefighters to work together during an emergency. Then stories like this come along and instill mountains of doubt and damaging that trust.
Reasons for Civil Servant Animosity
It makes sense for American sports teams to develop rivalries because they are divided up into divisions creating a hierarchy of competition, i.e. playoffs. Police officers and firefighters are supposed to be on the same team. How did they come to be such bitter rivals?
When it comes to the civil servant jobs of police officers and firefighters, there are two kinds of rivalry at play. The first is known as inter-service rivalry, a type of rivalry often seen in branches of the military. Interservice rivalry occurs when different groups have to compete for a limited amount of resources.
In the case of police departments and fire stations, the resource they compete for is money from the city budget. Major cities in the United States spend anywhere between 10% to nearly 60% of their annual budget on public safety. Money allocated for public safety is used to fund police departments, fire stations, emergency medical services, and corrections facilities.
All across the nation, city funds allocated to police departments is often double the amount given to the fire departments. This may give the impression that police officers are more important to the city’s public safety than firefighters or emergency services. The limited budget of the fire department means relying upon more volunteer firefighters to meet a city’s needs.
Creating a budget that meets the needs of a big city varies from one state to the next. Factors such as population density, the size of the infrastructure, and the availability of resources influence how much money different city departments get. Other variables such as the age of the population and the average household income affect how city funds are spent.
One factor that doesn’t seem to play a role in what percent of the budget a city spends on public safety is the total budget available. New York City has the highest fiscal budget in the United States for 2020 at $92 billion yet only spends roughly 10% of it on public safety. Meanwhile, Austin, Texas has a budget of just over $1 billion for the year and spends a record amount of just over 60% of the city’s budget on public safety.
|New York City||Austin, Texas|
|2020 City Budget||$92 billion||$1.1 billion|
|% spent on policing||6%||37%|
|$ spent on policing||$5.6 billion||$375,538,223|
|% spent on fire/rescue||2.3%||24%|
|$ spent on fire/rescue||$2.1 billion||$243,806,603|
The budget for the Department of Corrections has not been included in these figures. It often takes up a minimal percentage of city funding but is considered a part of public safety. The following table shows how much money each state spent on public safety in 2018.
State Spending on Public Safety (Police/Fire/EMS/Corrections)
|Name||% of Budget||Dollar Amount|
|50.||North Dakota||4.25||$430 million|
|46.||West Virginia||5.38||$920 million|
|43.||South Carolina||5.56||$2.55 billion|
|30.||South Dakota||6.22||$464 million|
|29.||New Jersey||6.30||$6.74 billion|
|28.||New York||6.37||$20.5 billion|
|24.||Michigan||6.72||* missing data|
|22.||Missouri||6.89||* missing data|
|21.||Delaware||7.00||* missing data|
|19.||Wisconsin||7.12||* missing data|
|17.||Illinois||7.16||* missing data|
|16.||New Hampshire||7.19||$853 million|
|15.||Oregon||7.22||* missing data|
|14.||Montana||7.25||* missing data|
|13.||North Carolina||7.30||$6.31 billion|
|12.||Oklahoma||7.34||* missing data|
|11.||New Mexico||7.38||$1.77 billion|
|9.||Georgia||7.56||* missing data|
|7.||Rhode Island||8.17||* missing data|
|4.||Maryland||8.66||* missing data|
* missing data—source article omitted the data of some states
More Familiar Rivalry
Budgets and resources may be the cause of interservice rivalry but police departments and fire stations have been known to engage in a different type of rivalry, sibling rivalry. This is the more playful, teasing kind of rivalry that occurs within departments and across services. Police officers and firefighters joke around and call each other names much the same way siblings tease one another.
While they may each believe their job to be more important, what they have in common ties them together with more strength than average jobs. Seeing the horrors of life and death are just part of doing the job they love. Because of this shared burden, police officers and firefighters have a higher respect for one another’s role like no other profession.
Police departments and fire stations become a second family and like every family, there can be disagreements and quarrels. As long as there is a foundation of trust within the departments, both police and firefighters look out for their own and each other. When that trust is lost, the family suffers.
One thing that often leads to a sibling-style rivalry between officers and firefighters is the perceived level of difficulty each job possesses. Jokes about donut shops and rescuing cats from trees are ways to keep things light-hearted, knowing the real dangers that exist in the line of duty. Trying to decide which is crazier, running into a burning building, or engaging in a gun battle with criminals is never-ending.
The job of a police officer primarily deals with people, often criminals but still a human being. For the most part, people can be reasoned with or subdued when necessary. Firefighters, on the other hand, have the occasional encounter with an unpredictable, volatile force of nature, fire. It is the bravery needed to face such an unknown level of danger that earns firefighters the utmost respect from those they serve and work alongside.
Interested in the differences in these careers? Learn more here https://civilservicehq.com/cop-or-firefighter-which-career-suits-you-better/
Public Safety Giuliani-style
One of the most famous rivalries between police officers and firefighters belongs to the NYPD and FDNY, New York city’s finest and bravest civil servants. It began in the 1980s when the number of fires in the city dropped off considerably. To stay busy, firefighters began responding to emergencies normally answered by police officers.
Thus began an overlap in responsibilities and the blurred lines of duty that led to a battle between the badges of public safety. Without a clear divide between policing obligations and fire tasks, the police officers and firefighters were left to work it out among themselves. The results, a turf war between two groups of strong-willed, hard-working traditionalists.
Many of New York’s mayors tried to create a harmonious partnership between the NYPD and the FDNY and failed. The city has always had the financial means and the personnel available to handle anything but this has done little to quell the animosity between the public safety agencies.
In 1996, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stepped into the ring and developed the Office of Emergency Management. Long before he became mayor, Giuliani recognized the threats the city could face would require more than what just one agency could handle. For instance, a bomb explosion is likely to cause a fire. It also calls into action police officers since it is a criminal act and depending on where it happened, any number of other city agencies may come into play.
The Office of Emergency Management had the role of overseeing the cooperative efforts of public safety agencies like the NYPD and the FDNY. The primary function of the OEM was to plan, prepare, and practice the coordination of responding to large-scale disasters. So realistic were these played-out scenarios that people who saw the photographs from the scenes hanging in the OEM offices believed them to be actual emergency events.
In July of 2001, Mayor Giuliani added the directive known as the Direction and Control of Emergencies in New York City. Its purpose was to alleviate the tensions between police officers and firefighters by assigning the role of incident commander to specific agencies for each emergency scenario. The OEM’s role now was to be the man on the scene to coordinate the responding agencies.
Ultimate Test on the System
A mere three months later, New York City’s new emergency response system was put to the ultimate test. The attack at the World Trade Center on September 11th shocked the nation as it unfolded live on television. No amount of practice could have prepared anyone for the devastation and loss of lives from those towers collapsing.
What made things worse for responders trying to coordinate efforts is the Office of Emergency Management’s headquarters was located on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center. The offices were severely damaged by the debris of the north tower’s collapse, leaving people scrambling, confused, and chaos all around.
Cooperation between police officers and firefighters couldn’t be achieved because the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief weren’t even in the same building anymore. Furthermore, they failed to formulate incorporated orders for their individual units. Police officers and firefighters were being given conflicting instructions making the volatile situation even more dangerous.
Since the attack on 9/11, more efforts have been made around the nation to better prepare public safety agencies for working together. In 2004, Homeland Security devised the National Incident Management System (NIMS) under the direction of President George W. Bush. Much like Mayor Giuliani’s Office of Emergency Management, the NIMS established standard procedures and protocols for handling various public safety emergencies.
What are the three components of NIMS?
Component number one is the Incident Command System which is the hierarchy of responders that establishes who is to take command of the specific situation. It clearly outlines each person’s role in a particular emergency. Part two is the Multi-Agency Coordination System that outlines the allocation of resources, prioritizes incidents, coordinates agencies during large-scale emergencies. The final piece of NIMS is systems to inform the public so the general population knows what is expected of them and what to do during a major emergency.
Did 9/11 do anything to quell the rivalry between the NYPD and the FDNY?
When the city of New York was attacked on 9/11, it gave the police officers and firefighters a common enemy to hate. However, the events did little to weaken the long-standing rivalry between the two agencies. In fact, 12 firefighters were arrested after allegedly attacking officers during a protest about the reduction in the number of responders allowed at ground zero. Even during recent charity sporting events, the NYPD and FDNY have taken out their animosity-driven aggression on one another to the cheers of proud New Yorkers.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.
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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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