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Improving Morale in the Slower Company

Do you ever wonder how morale issues exist in the fire service?  We all remember walking into the fire station the first time and hearing how it’s the best job in the world.  Then, somewhere down the line, the dark cloud of poor crew morale appeared.   Low morale can sneak up on even the most positive crews.   It presents itself in different forms; checked out shift members, beanery table gossip sessions, or lack of quality training.

Low morale occurs more often in slower stations. Not as many runs to go on can create more time for negativity and staleness. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to ride on the busiest engine companies in America like Engine 1 in the FDNY. (I don't know for sure, but I seriously doubt their morale is poor!)  Numbers wise, a large amount of firefighters in the country are on slower companies.  That does not mean good morale is unachievable for the slow firehouses!

What are possible solutions to improve morale for us at slower stations? The answer is simple.  Make your station busy!  Obviously, we can’t manufacture more runs – that would be called arson.   We can, however, make ourselves busier through other methods.   Here are three ways to turn your company from slow to busy and improve morale!

Method #1:  Set Goals

Goals are important!   It can be really frustrating not knowing your current direction.  As Author and Deputy Chief Frank Viscuso said in an August 2016 Fire Engineering article, “Teams with clearly defined goals do not have time for drama; they are too busy making progress.  One of the primary causes of drama is a team’s loss of focus on the purpose of its mission.” 

Chief Viscuso couldn’t be more correct.   Set some goals!   Turn your company’s focus away from the drama and toward improvement.   Sit down together at the kitchen table and set some goals that can be measured.  Here are some examples:

  • Complete 40 hours of training, monthly
  • Achieve an average turnout time of less than 60 seconds for emergency runs
  • Flow water 3 times per month
  • Review 3 Line of Duty Death reports per month
  • Work out 1 hour per shift

Come up with ideas that work best for your station. Be sure to get input from everyone, as you may find the best goals might come from even the new guy.   The next step is to make sure you track them.   If you’re not sure how to do that, ask your friendly techno-savy millennial for some help on the computer.   It’s important to see your progress, and rewarding to morale when you see progress towards goal accomplishment.  

Method #2:  Train More

Set a minimum target of three hours per day of training.   You may not always get all three hours worth, but it’s a good starting number.   You don’t have to do three straight hours, in fact, you may find it better to break it into smaller but higher quality training sessions.  

Pull hose, throw Ladders, work on cardiac arrest call performance.  If you’re at a slower station, you likely run no more than one high stress, serious call per month.   What’s stopping you and your crew from running one simulated serious call a day? When you start doing that at least once a shift, imagine the results spread out over a year!  How many more simulated serious calls would that be compared to what you run right now?   Obviously the real call is more valuable, but if you wait for only the real calls to gain experience than you’re simply not getting enough practice.

Having trouble finding good quality training? Look harder! You are living in the renaissance age of information for the fire service!   There are ideas for drills all over the internet.  Rainy day?   Find articles to discuss, videos to watch or webcasts to view on websites such as Fire Engineering.   The training materials are there – it’s up to you to do the work to find them!    

Method #3: Work Out Together

This is an important one.   Many people will say we’re good at killing firefighters.    Few of those people follow that up with the fact that over 50% of the ones we “kill” are due to medical issues such as heart attacks.   By setting a standard that we work out together, we make it harder to allow ourselves to take the day off.   At my station, there are definitely days I come to work and feel like skipping the workout.   Without fail, one of the firefighters I work with will remind me that it’s workout time – peer pressure!   

Working out together will also result in the crew being energized and in good spirits.  It’s also a lot harder to slack off when working out in front of fellow firefighters.    You might even throw a training video on during exercise time!

One Final Note:

The three methods discussed above may not solve your station’s problems by themselves.  Many other things such as poor leadership and negative attitudes can spoil a good environment.   It’s important to not settle for less. Keep trying new methods out!  If the rest of the firefighters at your station aren’t interested, start by trying the above steps yourself.  Passion and good attitudes are contagious, and you just might find them joining you.  You also may be at a slower station that still enjoys great morale – keep up the good work! As mentioned above, there are many other blogs and articles you can find for other ideas to help fix morale issues.  Seek them out and don’t give up.

Now, go get busy! 

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