How To Lose Good Firefighters In 10 Simple Steps September 06 2015, 24 Comments
During my time as a firefighter, I have enjoyed the best and suffered the worst a firehouse has to offer. I have met some of my best friends and endured months with people I wouldn't trust out of my sight. With that in mind, I thought I would compile a list--an easy to follow guide for the dirtbag, to ensure that any good firefighters that bid your station or who are placed in your house will not want to stay. Just follow these 10 easy steps and you'll be sure to send those valuable employees packing and looking for greener pastures.
1. Don't eat dinner together. Crawl into the dark nooks of your firehouse and only come out to eat alone. Bring your own special vegan-soy-protein infused meals, separated into individual tupperware containers and stored in one huge collapsible cooler that takes up half of a refrigerator--and make sure to never share. Take turns in the kitchen, one at a time, cooking and preparing your own personal meal and eat by yourself while you scan your Facebook page dreaming of other places you'd rather be at that moment.
Eating dinner--breaking bread with your co-workers is sometimes the only chance busy houses have to sit and converse and to strengthen the bonds that good friends and firefighters have. Many of the problems I've had, have been put into perspective right there while we joked and laughed and took comfort in each others lives and stories.
Side note: If you have a special diet because you just have to get on that firefighter calender or you realized that gluten makes you weepy, then you can still sit and eat together. You can eat the part of the meal that is acceptable to you and supplement it with your own. The important part is that you make the effort and you see the value of a shared meal with some of the most important people in your life.
2. Do exactly what is expected of you and nothing more. Look and see who is doing less and who is getting more than you. See who drives the truck more than you. See who sits in the better seat at the dinner table. Make sure you show up right before shift change and whatever you do, make sure to never hold over.
These people are personal behavior accountants, bean-counting the actions and in-actions of all their peers. They can recall with absolute clarity what each person has or has not done. The problem with these types is they never put the magnifying glass on themselves.
Good firefighters understand that cameraderie comes when you are doing more than is asked, when you are helping your brother with the most mundane tasks and when you suffer, execute and surmount obstacles together. Trust comes after that.
3. Stop Training. Complain at drill time. Make excuses. Drag your feet. Whine and roll your eyes when you do the same drill again that you've been doing for the last fifteen years.
There will come a point in everyone's career when they get comfortable--when they feel like they've got a good handle on their job. And that is all well and good, but a good firefighter is always looking to be a little uncomfortable. He wants to be challenged. He wants to learn something new, even the smallest bit of information that may make his job a little easier and a little safer.
Training provides discovery. Training provides purpose. Training provides growth. You should always try to remain a student of the fire service. The day you finally graduate from the school of fire should be your first day of retirement.
4. No Recognition. No matter what happens. No matter what the new guy does, do not compliment him. Do not recognize the effort. He's just doing his job, right?
Verbal recognition is one of the only ways we as officers and we as peers can reward firefighters. We can't offer them monetary incentives or days off from work. We can't sweeten their retirement package, but we can tell them they did a great job on the nozzle, or that they blasted through that security door like lightning. A compliment from someone you respect satisfies more personal needs than we would care to admit.
In this line of work we often fail even when our efforts are outstanding. The house burns, the person dies, and there is no effort that could have changed the course of what happened. Sometimes the only way we can make it better is by recognizing the efforts of others (even in failure) and giving them hope that the outcome won't always be negative.
5. Micro-manage. One of my friends and one of the best drivers on our department was once told by his new chief not just to catch a hydrant, but 'how' to catch a hydrant at a fire. After the fire, the order that was given and the way it undermined his knowledge and his skill, bothered him so much that he gave up his bid a week later, citing that, 'if he is going to tell me how to do my job at a hydrant, then he can get someone without a brain to do it for him.' At the time, I thought the move was extreme, but later I realized that he knew that particular Chief would never trust his efforts and he would never feel happy with his work. That Chief has only needed two or three of these steps to lose almost all his good firefighters.
Good firefighters want to be given orders, but they also want to do it themselves. They don't want you to hold their hand while they do it. They want the opportunity to show you, 'I got this. Don't worry.'
6. Ignore Feedback. You're the senior man, right? You're the officer, right? If you wanted feedback from the junior guy, you'd ask for it.
When a firefighter notices something is wrong, don't just ignore him. When he tries to show you a different way to do something, don't just blow him off. If they want to try something new on an evolution or deployment try it out, let him discover what you may already know. Who knows, he might even be on to something and you may not only improve the evolution, but improve the cohesion of the crew. Sometimes the best you can do here is to provide a framework for them to try out their theory or suggestion. And if you do shoot down the idea, at least you took the time to consider it and try it out.
Side note: Regularly ignoring feedback is a great way to keep firefighters from speaking up on emergency scenes. If their opinions are not valued in the station, then why would they be considered during a time of danger? There are firefighters who will follow you knowingly into a bad situation because it's their only way of saying, 'he doesn't listen to me anyway, so I might as well let him f*** up.'
7. Be dishonest. Say one thing and do another. This is a fantastic way to lose a good firefighter. If you can't be trusted, there really isn't much more to say.
8. Do not support growth. Belittle your firefighter. Use training time to show how terrible they are when they make a mistake. Do not work to make them better. Don't let them act as officers and don't support outside education.
9. Sabotage the efforts of others. If someone takes on a project to improve the truck or the station, tell them 'they are all ate up,' or tell them to chill out, the department is not paying for that. Better yet, tell them they're wasting their time by going to off-duty training.
Photo Courtesy of Bill Noonan
The best firefighters are supporters. They are team players. Remember you're not always going to be 1st in. You're are not always going to be the guy carrying the baby from the burning building. Every football team only has one quarterback, but it is the effort and the support of the whole squad that brings the victory. The great firefighters are often the unsung heroes, the never-mentioned guys that made the fire go so smoothly. Take pride in that.
If you drag your feet when you're third due. If you belittle the efforts of the young officer putting on his first drill, then you're well on your way to getting rid of that great firefighter.
10. Disrespect yourself, your crew and your firehouse. When you're off duty, act like an idiot. Be selfish. Make the same mistake over and over again. Do something stupid and when you come back to work be stubborn and arrogant. Whatever you do, don't apologize.
Humility seems to be one of the most difficult things for a firefighter to cultivate. Maybe because we have to be confident to do what we do, but eating a slice of humble pie after your blow-up the shift before earns a lot more respect than pretending it didn't happen at all.
If you're looking to ruin your station, if you're dying to get rid of that motivated guy, and if you'd rather hide in your cube the whole day, follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to finding more people that are just like you.
- Make them do busy work from 8-5. Disregard the fact that others work 8-5 then get to go home to their families. Disregard the fact these guys will be up working into the night until the next morning. Have them work 8-5 with nonsensical busy work, or productivity activities because your more concerned with what the suits and civvies think than how it affects your crew later. I mean, who doesn’t want to work 8 hours doing BS and then put in another 16 hrs running calls.
- Foster a culture where guys can’t be themselves because they’ll get picked apart. Foster a culture to where when a guys comes in after having a bad day with his wife/kids/ex, all the guys harass him. And then blame it on the occupation, “Hey we’re fireman that’s just what we do.” Allow a station culture to flourish that says because of our occupation/employment we have the responsibility to berate and belittle anyone that’s being themselves or simply just having a bad day for personal reasons.
has kept me from working at some departments. #12 exists at mine. Both are stupid.
Barbara Leavitt on May 11 2017 at 06:44PM
FINALLY. Most fire dept s are having problems with newbies & officers. They just have no rescpect for the firefighters n the job they do. Some Officers n Cheifs have NEVER personally fought a fire hmmm . Injuries are left untreated if the Cheif doesn’t respect the injured EMT or firefighter. They are discusting and need to be more than reprimanded. The Town n Cheif can be sued for not doing their job of protecting the firefighters n EMT s. The Unions are often run by the towns Fire Cheif Discusting
Jeff Aylward on May 11 2017 at 06:15PM
I loved it, you nailed it… These guys are in every group, every house ! I just don’t understand why they want to poison everyone around them????
Ryne Gliffberg on September 07 2016 at 02:20PM
I must say, I can relate to everything from #2-10 on the work group I am currently on in regards to the personalities and actions of many of the guys, from a Lt. and senior man and other guys who are allowed to act in a certain manner (which reflects on the group captain, who isn’t a problem in his own actions, but more-so in his lack of them).
I have also worked with a group leader(only a few months, though) who fostered the “problem” of #1. The thing about #1 is it can only really derail good firefighters if this is the culture created by the group leader, if there is anyone else aside from that officer who chooses not to eat together, so be it. It will ostracize them from the group, that’s on them. Though the higher up the chain of command a guy who makes a point to eat alone is, the more guys it opens the door to doing so.
I’ve personally seen a situation like #5 recently in my firehouse. Very similar in terms of how this new, but good/smart firefighter was treated for really no apparent reason after he was operating a pumper. The sad part is how the officer became aware and after so he didn’t understand what he did wrong and his buddies supported him. He lacked the humility to see that treating that firefighter in such a manner was embarrassing and demeaning to him.
Williamprob on June 17 2016 at 01:31AM
Thanks so much for the post. Want more. Lenters
Michael McNulty on May 09 2016 at 10:52AM
Are theire any departments out there that still sit watch at night?
John V Pignataro on May 02 2016 at 04:54PM
This is 100% spot on… The Company Officer sets the tone for his/her crew this individual is the buffer between management and firemen. As far as firemen go their part is to be a member of the team being family is a major ingredient to true cohesion of a firehouse.
M.Stevens on March 06 2016 at 03:38PM
These rules are not only absolutely true for firefighters but nurses as well. In 35 years, I’ve never seen a culture happier to “eat it’s young” than a group of nurses when an newbie hits the floor! On nights we clung together because that’s all we had. We did everything as a team. Transferring to day shift the first thing I saw was everyone’s out for themselves, exicuting most of these 10 rules perfectly!! I absolutely loved being a nurse… On night shift. I left nursing because of day shifters…. Thanks for sharing, and to my ex- firefighter husband and ALL you heroes… Thanks for ALL you do!!
Firefighter John Meksa (Retired) on November 14 2015 at 02:52PM
Great Work…..You are 100% Correct !!
Political Butt kissing to become an officer is very prevalent in the City of Camden, NJ.
I had purchased the proper books and studied long hours to take 2 Capt. test in 25 years.
The men that made Capt. bought the exam. You know how that works.
I worked in the ghetto for 25 years through 3 MAJOR RIOTS .Our Engine Company had
18 separate fires stacked up during the first time Camden burned down.
Our fire Load was very heavy. Your messages are very true. Maybe a MOVIE ?? HUH John Meksa Eng. 1, 9, 10.
Jim Lang on November 12 2015 at 01:37PM
Very true article but one if the biggest culprits when it comes to losing a good firefighter is by lowering the standards for the Job and hiring shit heads who are only there for a paycheck and are incompetent to say the least!!!!!
Ronald Angemi on November 12 2015 at 08:41AM
The real sad truth about this message is the firefighter that should be reading it …………WILL NOT
Veltha Prine on September 08 2015 at 12:16PM
I loved your comments. What a way to live your life by not just in the firehouse. Good job John.
Mark A. Bellantoni on September 07 2015 at 08:34PM
So true , great article.
EngineGoat on September 07 2015 at 08:32PM
steve wales on September 07 2015 at 03:48PM
scott miller on September 07 2015 at 01:00PM
there are other reasons to loose good firefighters retirement house or company closing like the may did in 2003 shut six fdny house s engine 36 204 209 212, 278 261 and
Vitorino francisco on September 07 2015 at 11:02AM
Thank you for the improvement I’d like to receive more articles.
Dave Doherty on September 07 2015 at 09:10AM
Was a good read and some truth in our habbits.
Donald Owens on September 07 2015 at 08:49AM
Very good paper and so true .The way it is.
Gerald Psalmond on September 07 2015 at 07:32AM
Those are the 10 rules that will end a fire department faster than anything I know of. Firefighters who work, eat, sleep, party, and treat each other as brothers and sisters will survive together. Firefighters who see what needs to be done and does it without having to be told, means your back is always covered.
Anthony Correia on September 07 2015 at 07:13AM
Right on, after 38 years in the fire service, 20 in senior leadership positions; I can confirm your beliefs. Good mentoring can prevent this from happening. All firefighters need to have HEART – I
385 on September 07 2015 at 02:26AM
Hey rule # 6 need’s to be stressed and repeated throughout the rank’s !
Mick Moffitt on September 07 2015 at 01:06AM
This entire article really revolves around having an attitude of humility. Confident but not arrogant. My personal definition of leadership is “the ability to identify, surface and cultivate the strengths of each member on the team.” I have been the insecure; arrogant truck boss. All it got me was a team with no unity. When I realized and changed, the team United and we became the shift on top!
Jon M. on September 07 2015 at 12:52AM
This was the very description of m last dept. I was forced out by the chief who hired an outside lawyer and paid her with city funds for a he said she said investigation.We all knew how the outcome
would result. A number of us quit because to many folks could get off concerning discrimination , hostile threats, physical abuse, and non stop insults. Our Minnesota chief seemed to find no cause to punish his BUDDIES for nothing they’d admit.
Sandro on September 06 2015 at 10:35PM
Also, cultivate a good old boy culture. Talk badly about certain firefighters who don’t belong in your clique, and ensure they don’t ever come to your station because you’d rather keep the crew of outside work friends you have working there. Blame it on the fact you heard they were “bad” and do not give them the opportunity to show improvement or change.