Better fire department morale begins with a mirror

Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

Today and in the next few newsletters we'll be giving you previews of some of the more interesting seminars at this year's FRI conference.

Today's preview looks at the issue of fire department morale and its effects on performance. Next week's preview will examine roadside safety. Neither is a very 'sexy' issue that gets a lot of airplay. Both are chronic problems that if left untreated will compromise a fire department.

I once worked for an organization where the culture went from highly toxic to positive and cooperative. When you work in an environment teeming with dislike, distrust and disgust, little good gets accomplished.

Conversely, people who like and trust one another tend to help one another — and that's when the really good things happen.

The culture shift I witnessed came about because of several factors. Leadership changed its approach. Some bad apples were weeded out. External circumstances forced cooperation as a means to survive.

Firefighters often call firefighting the best job in the world. So how could morale ever be low?

Firefighters are human and fire departments — career and volunteer — are organizations. And we humans do a very good job of messing up organizations. We are also clever enough to fix what can be fixed; cultures can be fixed.

I believe the shift I lived through was more by accident than design. Firefighters are not ones to sit and wait for an alignment of stars or circumstance; we fix things — we take action.

Fixing a bad culture and low morale takes a plan, leadership and follow through.

Yet one critical, very individual step is taking responsibility for our own morale. It is tempting and easy to point the finger at those above and below us in the pecking order as the cause of bad culture and low morale.

It is difficult to look in the mirror and acknowledge our own role in that negative culture. It is difficult to set about righting ourselves — owning our own morale.

Regardless of how we may feel or what we may feel was done to us, we control how we see any given situation. Even the newest probie can affect culture and morale by engaging in the things that improve it and avoiding those that don't.

In more simple terms: brotherhood and sisterhood starts and ends with the brothers and sisters.

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