Chief Halton stated in his FDIC 2019 keynote what many of us have said before- ”Firefighting is the best damn job we’ve ever had.” He is 100% correct. This is the best job there is, and I can think of nothing that I’d rather be doing. Although, being a cowboy on a ranch in Colorado or Wyoming with a view of the Rockies wouldn’t be bad either!
But let’s be honest. Sometimes the best job gets you down because of the toxic environment that you find yourself in. People, politics, positions-they can create major stress and frustration for us. They can suck the joy out of such a great job.
So how do you stay positive in such a negative atmosphere? What allows you to continue to show up for work with a good attitude and the willingness to make a difference? While there are no silver bullets that will make an immediate overall improvement to the situation, there are a few things that we can do to help weather the storm.
1. Read articles or books about the fire service. Keep your mind focused on new information that may be of benefit or refreshes things you’ve forgotten. Look for bits of advice that you might be able to apply to your current situation.
2. Listen to podcasts. Pay attention to guys and gals who are upbeat and positive, the members who “get” what this job is all about. Feed off their energy.
3. Take a break from social media. Talk about a toxic environment! Why expose yourself to even more backstabbing and mudslinging? Isn’t that what you’re trying to avoid?
4. Train routinely even if it’s by yourself. You may not have control over others but you do have control over your own efforts to improve. Who knows, maybe someone will see your example and come join you.
5. Write down your frustrations. Take an honest look at the list and determine what is within your ability to improve upon. See if you can effect change in one small area at a time.
6. Ignore what negativity you can, but know what your non-negotiables are. Be willing to combat toxicity when it is required in order to protect your values and sense of mission.
7. Take a break from the fire service. This doesn’t mean quit your job or resign your volunteer status, although in extreme cases that might be what's necessary. Rather, sometimes we get too wrapped up in the job. Especially in dealing with a toxic environment we need to get away from it all sometimes. Dive into your hobby. Develop healthy relationships with non-firefighters. Read books that are not fire service related.
8. Be patient. The toxic culture most likely did not occur as a result of one incident; rather, the toxins have been building for some time. Likewise, things won’t improve overnight. You’ve got to commit yourself mentally and emotionally for the long haul.
9. Reach out to others for help. At times the weight of the toxicity can be overwhelming. Go outside of your department and ask for guidance. Share your burden, don’t try to carry it alone.
A toxic environment must be overcome with more than motivational quotes and inspirational memes. It’s going to require hard work, thick skin, and lots of patience. There will be many dark days and even years ahead. Only you can determine if it’s all worth fighting for though.
Stay the course. Keep being the best firefighter you can be in spite of the toxic environment around you.
After all, it still is “the best damn job you’ve ever had!”
If I can be of help (see #9) look me up here