Julia Kleinewiese, Peter Graeff
Ethical decisions between the conflicting priorities of legality and group loyalty: Scrutinizing the “code of silence” among volunteer firefighters with a vignette-based factorial survey

Deviant Behavior, 2020: 42, Heft 10, S. 1228-1241
ISSN: 0163-9625 (print), 1521-0456 (online)

In this study, we examine volunteer firefighters’ inclination towards a “code of silence”. The likelihood of not reporting fellow group members’ deviant behavior is increased by group standards such as loyalty, but this comes at the cost of violating the law. A factorial survey was conducted with volunteer firefighters in Germany to test the influence of several factors in determining whether whistleblowing or conforming to a “code of silence” was more likely. The results show that the question of whether a firefighter will disclose a deviant action depends on the severity (e.g. the forcefulness) of the team’s or the team member’s wrongdoing. External threats turn out to have a significant opposite effect and foster the “code of silence”. Our results suggest that the factors that influence volunteer firefighters in this regard are similar to those that previous studies on the code of silence postulate as influencing professional working groups such as the police.