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What Creates Fire Department Morale?


I have been in a lot of fire stations in my career, and everyone seems to have a different feel.  Not only does each station feel different but each shift has a different feel even though that shift is in the exact same station with the exact same equipment.  Sometimes the difference from day to day can be night and day different.  What makes the difference?  The difference is the people in the station, nothing else.

Every firefighter has at some point blamed the Fire Chief, or his supervisors for the rotten morale in the department.  Some of these supervisors don’t really understand how it is to be a firefighter anymore.  They have been in administration for so long, they are out of touch with the guys on shift.  All those administrators care about is getting promoted, wearing that white shirt, and getting more money.  They will do whatever it takes to get ahead.  That can be true in some instances, but why then is the attitude different the next day when there are different firefighters in the same situation?

How can anyone work in this beat up old station, it’s too small, there isn’t enough windows, and it has that stale smell.  The color scheme is depressing, the carpet is too old, and the kitchen is too small without enough counter space.  That same station tomorrow with different firefighters might have an entirely different outlook.

Our equipment is out of date, our rigs have some rust on them, and our department is just too cheap to invest in the latest tools.  The morale around here would be a lot better if we had better equipment.  The same equipment tomorrow and there might be a different attitude.

I have worked in each of these situations.  I have worked with rigs with rust holes that we covered with duct tape and painted, and with brand new shiny rigs.  I have worked in an old small station, with no privacy, and mold in the ductwork.  That was replaced by an award winning modern station big enough to put two of the old stations in the truck bay.  I have worked with some very positive firefighters, and with some that never had a good word to say.

When I look back there was good times and bad times in each of those situations. Sometimes things can drag you down, and other times nothing can bring down the morale and attitude of the shift.  What then determines the difference in all these stations and all these shifts?

One thing that never dragged down the shift was the administration.  I rarely agreed with administration and they can really get nasty at negotiation time, but we rallied together in those times more than ever.  It never really mattered to me any shift I worked on if we had rusty rigs or shiny rigs.  We didn’t have to worry much about cleaning them when they are rusty.

It was a lot nicer and easier to tolerate things in a nice new big station.  Lots of room, and everything worked properly.  The station did have some influence on morale.  The biggest factor in determining the culture, or attitude, is the people working together.  When we work best together is when we have similar interests and opinions.

Morale is very complicated and is affected by many things, but most importantly is the people you work with.  Most firefighters are positive and easy to work with.  Walking into a station, it only takes a couple minutes to figure out who is dragging things down.  It can be a firefighter company officer or administrator that is draining everyone.  The important thing is to make sure you are not the one keeping everyone from having a good day at work.

By John Morse

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