Does your department still have an initiation?
As I travel the state of Nebraska, I enjoy visiting with scores of firefighters and sharing some great stories. Lately, I have heard about a few departments still carrying on the decades-old tradition of initiation. In other words, a person cannot be considered as a “true” firefighter until that person submits to the initiation process - and who would want to miss that opportunity?
The Gering Volunteer Fire Department had just such an activity many years ago. Old timers like Jay Templar, Tim Maxcy and Jim Lawson remember quite well what it was like: an all-day “escorting” of the new inductees around town wearing most of their bunker gear on backwards. (They were handcuffed to each other so they couldn’t run away.)
If they got too warm, they were “cooled down” using an inch and a half pre-connect from a nearby fire truck. If they got tired, they were allowed to stop by a local tavern (owned by a firefighter of course) where they could dance to some great polka music and share one beer between all of them. If they failed to address a senior firefighter as “sir” they found out what an electric cattle prod felt like.
Around supper time, the inductees were escorted to the fire station, one at a time where they were subjected to a wide variety of humiliating antics. (I’m not sure what else you would call it.) When it was all over, the committee had plenty of delicious food, a good supply of beverages with handshakes and back-slaps all-around. But it was a tradition, all in fun and now the GVFD had a new team of “real” firefighters.
Recently, someone asked me, “but isn’t initiation just another form of hazing?” I didn’t know but what I found out according to Nebraska statute 28-311.06 is this: “It shall be unlawful for any person to (1) engage in any activity, (2) by which a person intentionally or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health or safety of an individual, (3) for the purpose of initiation into, admission into, affiliation with, or continued membership, (4) with any organization.
Ok, so what does “hazing” involve? Again, I refer to the statute: “Hazing activity is any brutal treatment or unlawful act which endangers the physical or mental health or safety of any person such as whipping, beating, branding, sexual penetration, exposure of the genitals with intent to affront or alarm any person, lewd fondling or caressing the body of another person, forced and prolonged calisthenics, prolonged exposure to the elements, forced consumption of food, liquor, beverage, drug of harmful substance, prolonged sleep deprivation, etc.”
So what? I’ll tell you what. Hazing is a crime! (a class II misdemeanor no less) and is punishable by a fine up to ten thousand dollars. Does your department still have an initiation? If it does, I think you know what to do.