Insubordination As A Disciplinary Charge

Today’s burning question: What is “insubordination”? I am so tired of people trying to make fire departments into paramilitary organizations. We are not the military, it’s a vocation. Insubordination has no place in the fire service as a basis for discipline.

Answer: While you are correct that fire departments in the US are not part of the military (in some countries fire departments are part of the military), the term paramilitary has several definitions.

Merriam Webster defines paramilitary as “of or relating to a group that is not an official army but that operates and is organized like an army.”

On the other hand Dictionary.com defines paramilitary as “denoting or relating to a group of personnel with military structure functioning either as a civil force or in support of military forces.”

Fire departments are scalar organizations in that we have defined ranks and command structure. We wear uniforms, have ranks, and in many fire departments those ranks are acknowledged with a military-like salute. Many consider such an organization to be paramilitary.

Having said all that, an employee does not have to be a soldier nor in a paramilitary organization to be insubordinate. Merriam Webster Dictionary and Dictionary.com both define insubordination as disobedience to authority. Wikipedia says it is willfully disobeying one’s superior.

A clerk at a supermarket can be insubordinate to a manager, as can an employee in a fast-food restaurant. A junior associate in a law firm can be insubordinate to a managing partner. And a firefighter can be insubordinate to an officer. Insubordination is one of those disciplinary charges that can be grounds for punishment in virtually any workplace: military, paramilitary or otherwise.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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