How firefighter morale impacts performance

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By Rick Markley, FIRE CHIEF and FR1 Editor-in-chief

Fire department morale, what’s the big deal? It’s not like firefighters are a bunch of hippies who sit around holding hands and singing songs about the many virtues of pine trees and spotted owls.

Actually, if you are going to lead a fire department you need your firefighters to perform at their peak — and performance is directly tied to morale. Yes, there’s empirical research to back that up.

At the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ FRI conference next month, Lt. Rommie Duckworth will get into the weeds of why morale is important and how fire chiefs can improve it. His presentation, “Improving Morale: Simple Steps to Make Work a Better Place” will be held Aug. 13 at 10:30 a.m. Early registration discount runs through July 15.

By the numbers

According to a Gallup poll, only 33 percent of workers identified themselves as “engaged.” Consequently, 49 percent were non-engaged and 18 percent were disengaged. What’s more, Forbes found that the companies with the top 10 percent employee engagement outperformed their competition by 72 percent.

And on the fireground, the competition is death and injury.

In his presentation, Lt. Duckworth will detail the top 10 things that attract employees — including money, time off and learning opportunities. He’ll also look at the seven reasons employees stay and the eight reasons they are engaged — relationship with supervisor and fire department reputation land on both lists.

Lt. Duckworth says the top three things a chief can provide to ensure firefighters’ engagement is autonomy, mastery and purpose.

By that he means firefighters need the freedom to work on what interests them most and the opportunity to develop a level of mastery over those interests. It is also critical that firefighters feel a sense that what they do matters in the grand scheme.

A better environment

Another area Lt. Duckworth will focus on is the need for chiefs to establish a clear vision, concise expectations and fairly meted out discipline.

He will also explore the importance of creating an environment of camaraderie, or brotherhood, and ways to build that through recognitions, celebrations and family involvement.

Lt. Duckworth will delve into the morale killers, how to recognize them and how to head them off at the pass. Some of those morale-killing attitudes are firefighters who are “retired on duty” and the always-despondent “Eeyores.”

Finally, he’ll detail how to use “negativity Judo” — a communication tactic that let’s you use the firefighter’s energy to deflect negativity and execute a move that leaves the situation positive, encouraging and empathetic.

And if all that sounds a little too hippie-dippy, remember: strong firefighter morale equals a strong fire department.

Comments - Add Yours

  • Mike

    I absolutely agree that morale is critical to the success of a fire department, but a real challenge comes from the belief that it’s the fire Chief’s job to give an employee good morale.

  • Robert Avsec

    Great piece, Rick! Your readers might also find this article to be pertinent to the conversation as well, How to create an atmosphere that supports motivation in your department. http://www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2013/04/11/how-to-create-an-atmosphere-that-supports-motivation-in-your-department/

  • http://www.romduckworth.com/ Rommie Duckworth

    Mike, Good point. Improving morale begins with personal attitude. That doesn’t mean that everyone should learn to eat dirt and like it, but that if you’re going to gripe, DO something about it. No one (not even the Chief) can fix everything, but everyone and do something.