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I am a captain of a small town department that has never exactly been the busiest station in the county….. as a matter of fact we’re the slowest, taking about 315 runs a year give or take. I have an amazing group of guys that work under me and totally deserve the respect of our surrounding departments for all they have done with what we have to work with. In the past our department has never been the outstanding, train hard, hard core guys in the county that everyone looks up to for ideas and motivation, IN THE PAST. Currently I have one of the best response times in the county for my big truck runs and our ems is improving everyday run by run. One of the problems I keep running into is my members coming back from classes, trainings, and runs feeling down about themselves because someone decided that the good job they just finished wasn’t good enough to talk about so they brought up something not so good that happened 10 years ago. Our department is a very aggressive hard hitting department now and we are very proud of it. How can I keep my guys motivated and have them feel the pride of a job well done when we keep getting knocked down every time? Any Comments would be appreciated.

Be Safe, Train Hard


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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Dan,

Wow that's a lot of stuff in a very short paragraph, sadly what I've learned is there is no quick fix to your problem. If the guys are coming home feeling like they could have done better, then instead of defending your method, look at what they think they could have done better.

I took over a dying department with only 8 members and started everything all over again from the ground up, because I had no choice, we had to make a difference in the eyes of the community we served, the people on the street, other volunteer professionals and most importantly the members themselves.

I quickly took stock of my members, identifying the strengths of each person, regardles of rank, and then gave them responsiblity, asking for their help in making this the best station ever... not one of them said "nope sorry chief, not interested", instead they bowled me over with ideas, and took on a fostering teaching attitude. As a side note, I'll say that not one original of my officers is with me today despite my asking them to step up, or be run over, they where pushed out by men who stood up eager to make a difference. The previous officers weren't fired, they just didn't see their role anymore, being merely called Officer wasn't enough anymore and they couldn't keep up, they've all resigned or stepped down to become fire fighters. Allowing the strength to shine is a major step in changing attitudes about your department and it's direction. I've taken it one step forward and began awarding the additional effort, with a Chief's Award, not only do they get recognition from their peers, they get a trip to FDIC paid for! It's changed the 'culture' at the Station.

I implimented too many things to outline in this forum, but one of the things I did immediately was make mandatory debriefing after every call, whether it was a 'small medical' call or a big sulphur plant explosion. You have to adopt (it all starts with the head) an attitude that life is a never ending learning opportunity, and that everyone has something valid to contribute. So now after every call we all meet... sometimes on the floor, sometimes in the classroom and have a debrief. We talk about the call, every member takes a turn telling what they did, and then self critiques... they say what they did, how it could have gone better, what they'd like to see next time, When everyone has had a chance to explain their role in the call, then I take a turn as I.C. and then we all decide how we did, most often we think about what we can do to improve, and often it means making changes before we go home. You'll never guess whats happened... we've improved, we're now the department people come to for advice, and ideas and suggestions. The guys want to talk about the call, they want to change to make things better, they're involved!

We've upped our training from every other Tuesday night to every Tuesday night and the occasional Saturday as well, we've split into groups, so we have an attitude of "Each one teach one" which has fostered a safe learning environment, as well as enforcing rank. I have my less experienced fire fighters learning from my more experienced fire fighters, I have a trainer and typically we have at least 3 or more learning levels going on at the same time.

I've also empowered each member to be responsible for at least one or more things in the station, so now members are responsible for: the cascade system, the medical supplies and bags, gear, apparatus, BA maintance and records, apparatus inspections etc. Everyone now has ownership for something, then I change it up every 3 months, so that we all become experts in everything.

Because they've become excited about being at the firehall, they've been talking to people and our numbers are now over 30, in less than two years.

As a result of the increase in numbers, we needed to bring everyone on stream with training, to that end I've encouraged everyone to take as many courses as possible, often hosting them here at our Station to facilitate the members and their lives outside of the Station.

During the past two years we've seen a quadrupling in numbers of members, my members are all EMR (Canadian) EMT (American) trained, and all have their 10-01 level 1 and 2 certifications, we've doubled our number of responses from the previous year, and been able to more than meet the demand set before us.

It all starts with you... the head, you need to make it safe and imperative to ask questions about performance and make it mandatory to encourage different or safer practices on the same old routine. Encourage them to take as many courses as possible and get rid of the... But-we've-always-loaded-the-hoses-this-way Attitude.

Giving them an opportunity to talk about what they did, and how they could do it better, gives them a sense of self confidence and a Can-Do attitude. Sometimes we come home and everything has gone sideways, and talking about it in a short session leads to this incredible brainstorming session where the end result is feeling better about what happened, because they've been given the tools to change it. On the other hand we've come home and can't think of a thing that we could have done differently, which leads to an incredible sense of 'job well done'.

Helping them feel better and getting them more educated about the job, which in and of itself is incredibly dynamic, allows them to feel better and more confidant about themselves and the job.

Listen to your men, if they're saying I don't feel good about the job, take them at face value, have them pitch in and help you find a solution, it's a very empowering experience for you and your men. There is nothing more satisfying for me as a Chief to see someone get excited, take ownership and grow as a member of my department.

You've take amazing first steps by asking for and wanting the best for your Station and members, you'll do amazing Dan with your attitude and I'm betting your members will shock and amaze you with their new ideas.

Stay safe.

Judy Unsworth
District Chief
Chief Unsworth,
Thank you so much for your comments and opinion. It is truly a breath of fresh air to hear from someone who has had to start at square one to rebuild their department and was successful at doing so. I will most definitely take your ideas into consideration in the upcoming months and see what results I get, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a positive, noticeable change.
The past is definatly not the present. You have to start somewhere and attitudes reflect leadership. So start at the top like Judy said. Our dept was alot like yours, in the fact that we were at one time the laughing stock of our area, we changed cheif's and it's been a different story eversince. If you have folks that want to be involved, then involve them like Judy said, give them responsibilities then hold them accountable. I would also advise doing some public relation work as well. We as a free service to our community go to the highschool football games on Friday nights and park cars. We do this free of charge and gives our members a chance to be in the public eye doing non- emergency work. It seems trivial, but you will be suprised at how many pats on the back you will get from total strangers telling you how they appreciate what you do. Who knows you may be responding to their home one day and they remember a friendly face. Get your gusy involved in public safety week or community helpers week that alot of elementary school's do throughout the year. We have taken apparatus to the school, and had classes tour the station. It only takes a minuite to make a difference. If I can be of any help to you let me know. Don't get discouraged that 's the main thing.
Thanks Eddie,
all this has been very helpful, I think if I start slowly working my way into using some of these thoughts we will really turn things around. thanks again


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