Hazing News

Firemen, like chefs in the food industry, often haze new recruits: By Jim Broman

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Under the guise of initiation or acceptance, certain firehouse practices can be demeaning and even dangerous. Hazing often involves unnecessary, unpleasant or extremely difficult work, which supposedly tests a person’s character or endurance. This “testing” may range from joking to taunting and nit-picking, or from work obstructions to demeaning tasks.

Although hazing is purportedly meant to test a new member’s commitment, it may really serve to provide the perpetrators with a bit of demented amusement. The new member must decide whether acceptance by this group is sufficiently worthwhile to endure the discomfort and humiliation.

Creating a gauntlet of fear and humiliation should legitimately be termed harassment, which is illegal in the workplace. But when does hazing become harassment? There is no clear line.

To make matters worse, an insular culture exists that people outside of a firehouse rarely, if ever, witness. You’ve probably seen the Las Vegas promotions that tout, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” In this case, “What happens in the firehouse stays in the firehouse.”

The “final exam” in an initiation is complicity-by-silence. The rookie cannot disclose to anyone outside of the firehouse what happened, on penalty of rejection; a squealer will be ostracized immediately. This is the most insidious aspect of hazing; some perpetrators are exploring whether the rookie can be trusted to keep quiet about questionable and inappropriate activity. “Do you have my back?” goes beyond job commitment and, in the realm of firefighting, includes a vow of silence should a group member face accountability for bad behavior…..

….Testing the commitment and courage of new team members is certainly reasonable. Respect for each other and for all humanity is the foundation upon which fire service skills are built. Our leaders must understand this.

Further, fire service leaders are learning to appreciate and seek diversity in our teams and organizations. But when we perpetuate the inappropriate traditions of hazing and harassment, we encourage talented and capable people to avoid or prematurely leave the fire service. We must stop behaviors that promote inappropriate behavior in the workplace so we can all learn and work together in a respectful environment.



By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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