As leaders, we should constantly monitor our organizations morale and make adjustments as necessary. What are some of the steps, policies, mannerisms, or lead by example tips we as leaders can do to help build and maintain morale?
It is always important to look professional. Personnel should not be showing up at emergency scenes with shirts that are torn, without names, patches missing or other unacceptable issues. Once I made lieutenant, I started taking my shirts to the dry cleaners so I always had clean and pressed shirts on. There were times when less than 15 minutes into a shift we responded to a fire and my shirt would get soaked and dirty. After returning to quarters and showering, I always had a clean and pressed shirt to change into. Can this be done 100% of the time? Probably not. But if you make the effort others (including your crew) will notice. And then there is the pants. I have seen the navy blue pants that have been washed so many times that they are a light blue. Make sure your replacement program includes inspections and recommendations for new uniforms when necessary. Just as important to looking professional is to act professional. It’s ok to cut up once in a while at the station. I think that’s one way we stay sane in this business. However, when there is company in the station, from family and public to other officials, it is that time we need to be the professionals we always claim we are. Act professional and be professional in the station and out in the public whether at an emergency scene, public education program, or some other venue. As the Company Officer, make sure your crew looks and acts the part. As the leader, you should always emphasize that we are here to do whatever the public wants whenever they want it. It is never an inconvenience, it is our job.
Building Your Team
It is important for the company officer to build morale within the station. I have been at some stations where there is always one or two guys who want to be alone all the time. They bring their own food eat alone, watch television alone, and stay away from group conversation. It is hard for the company officer to bring these people into the group, but it is always worth trying. Make sure everyone trains together, meet in the morning to discuss the activities for the day or the latest news and weather and try to find something that these guys and gals have in common with everyone else. It takes time and you have to keep these activities up, eventually most of these loners will become part of the group and you will have your team. Remember to be nice, be positive, be friendly, and be a friend. Not everyone has the best days every day at the firehouse.
Build Company Pride
I was a lieutenant when the movie Backdraft came out. Immediately many of us wanted to have our own company logo and flag for our apparatus. At the time, top officials would not allow it. We still designed our own t shirts with our own mascot and wore them at night. It was a start and a source of pride for those of us at that station. Now all the stations have their own mascot and flags for the apparatus. In today’s world many stations have their own Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram (or all of them). If you decide to go this route, ensure it is in line with your department and or city policies on these types of social media. In some areas it is still not allowed. If you do use these make sure you as the leader monitor the site and ensure the postings are appropriate. Once a year a week before Fire Prevention week, we have a department wide open house at all stations and invite the public in to see their stations and fire apparatus. In most cases this will be the only opportunity for the citizens to see a fire truck up close. And the adults like getting in the seats as much as the kids. As the firefighters are giving tours they show their pride in their job and their knowledge and the citizens will see that we do more than sit around all day. This is always important as it builds trust between the fire department and the citizens. These types of events always bring the personnel closer together.
Lead by Example
As the leader of an organization, you have to always have a positive attitude. If you are in this position, you learned a long time ago to leave any other issues at the front door. If you sense the morale is low in your organization, then the best way to start building morale is to show up; at the station, emergency scenes, public education, and other venues. Congratulate the new dads or moms and acknowledge any off duty accomplishments. Someone once said that your employees don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show them that you do care. Lead by example. Ask questions to really understand why morale is low. If you get some suggestions, implement those you can and acknowledge whose idea it was. Everyone likes a pat on the back once in a while. As a leader, whether a company officer or the chief, you can’t fix morale problems just like that. But we always have to keep trying. That’s what we get paid for, to never give up and never stop trying.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.