No team wants to lose. Losing on the fireground can be disastrous (loss of a house, family pet, failed rescue, etc.) If a highly motivated team does lose...they do not need to be berated or chastised. They will not like the feeling of losing. They need to be supported. The reason for losing needs to be identified and this will be the subject of future practices. The post incident analysis will be the same as a football coach reviewing films. Fact finding and not blame finding.
If you find that an error was made, then this needs to be discussed with the group. Errors must be minimized. If one member has the full weight of the mistake, they need to be spoken to individually. Quietly. There is no point in yelling. More will be accomplished by working to educate someone than by tearing them down.
The team will need encouragement and emotional support. A sincere heart will go a long way. Ask if they are OK. Speak to the group as a whole and talk to the individuals separately. Some members will be reluctant to say they are hurting in front of others.
Depending on the severity of the "loss," you may be able to assist the member in defusing and getting past the situation. Do not think you can handle all things. You need to know your people well enough to judge their emotional state. If it is beyond your scope, call the professionals. Call the local critical incident stress management team. That is the reason they exist. Get them the support they need.
It is easy to be supportive after great successes. "High-five-ing" and "attaboys" are welcomed and to some degree, expected, after they have put in a great effort. Public praise and a "Thank you" goes a long way. They have a great return on the investment.
Just because it is easy to be supportive after a win, does not mean every Officer displays their gratitude. If your team wins (puts the fire out, rescues a little old lady or saves a dog in the ice) and you fail to acknowledge it, you will damage team spirit. You must make a conscious decision to embrace this time to show your appreciation for their hard work. It is the right thing to do.
Be personal about it. When a member does a great job, call them by name in front of the group and state what they did so well. Then thank them for doing a great job. Do not delegate this responsibility. Do not leave a letter in their email or mail box. Give them face time. They earned it.
Building an esprit de corps is very rewarding. It will give your team strength. You will have a direct impact on this spirit by the way you treat the team. In order to get the maximum effort from your team, you must give them your maximum effort. A motivated, cohesive team will accomplish infinitely more then a demoralized down-trodden group of people.
The decision you make about how you treat your team will be one of the most important decisions of your career. I urge you to make the right decision the first time.
JAMESON R. AYOTTE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a fire lieutenant/paramedic with the Amesbury, MA Fire Department. where he is the shift commander of Group 3. Lt. Ayotte holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and an M.S. in Physical Therapy from UMass-Lowell. He is a certified Fire Officer I, Fire Officer II and Fire Instructor I. In addition to working as a full time Firefighter, he works as an instructor at the Massachusetts Fire Academy. To read Jameson's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.