Performance under fire: A study of rhetorical firefighter identities

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Firefighters, through the repetitive performance of their shared job, construct a collective rhetorical identity. Fire departments, like many organizations, often adopt written core values in an aim to guide employee behavior and represent the organization’s beliefs, both internally and externally. From my personal experience working in a fire department that recently adopted new core values, I developed an interest in how other fire departments adopt such values and if those values contribute to the rhetorical identities of the firefighters. To investigate this question, I conducted a qualitative discourse analysis of a five-year sample of professional papers written by executive fire officers of the National Fire Academy. The purpose of this study is to examine fire department core values as rhetorical symbols of organizational rhetoric and identification strategies of constitutive rhetoric that are intended to influence the firefighter identity. In this study, I coin the phrase “entrenched group identity,” which I define as a constitutive identity that has an ingrained culture inherent to the profession, and exposure to traumatic events, danger, and high levels of stress influence how this group works and acts together. I assert that firefighters have an entrenched group identity, which I analyze using a theoretical framework drawn from Kenneth Burke, Chaïm Perelman, Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, and Judith Butler. From the study, I found that while core values assigned by the organization do not have a constitutive effect on the firefighter identity, the unspoken value of masculinity is historically and rhetorically embedded into the job and the identity of the firefighter.

Firefighter, Core values, Organizational rhetoric, Identities, Constitutive rhetoric, Masculinity, Gender, Power, Culture