The topic of motivation in the fire service is not as easy to address as some might think. Some people will never have to be motivated, as they are self-motivated and hard charging. Some people will only need to be motivated on occasion as they go through the normal ups and downs of their career. Then there is that small select group that will constantly need a fire lit under them.
Those that are self-motivated are generally the easiest to work with. These are the people that want to be on the busiest Truck Company for example. This applies especially to firefighters involved in Special Operations. Why would someone want to be assigned to the Hazardous Materials Team or a Technical Rescue Team when they will not only have the responsibilities of a regular firefighter, but the additional responsibilities pertaining to their specialty as well? In many cases, involvement with a Special Operations Team doesn't necessarily mean additional compensation. Why then would someone subject themselves to all of the additional training? The answer is because they want to and their own personal motivation takes care of itself.
Motivation and leadership go hand in hand, especially where those individuals who are not 100% self-motivated are concerned. There is a saying that idle hands are the devil's workshop. This can be applied to the fire service as well. If the Company Officer handles all of the routine duties and delegates no responsibilities, the rest of the company will have nothing to do, except waiting for the next call to come in. This may be fine with a busy company, but it will not work on a slow company. For this reason, you must motivate your troops by showing confidence in them by delegating responsibilities.
This can be accomplished in several ways. Let the troops alternate between Acting Company Officer and Acting Driver when there is a vacancy on the front of the truck. Assign someone to take care of the logbook or the run reports for a shift. Annual and semi-annual projects also need to be taken care of. Assign a firefighter to take care of the Building Inspections, Hydrant Inspections, Hose Tests or Ladder Inspections. Not only are the troops motivated by your confidence in them, but you are also preparing them for more responsibilities later on and promotions later in their career.
Another way to motivate the troops is recognition for a job well done. Will your crew consistently go the extra mile for you if you don't recognize them? Or worse yet, when you take the credit for something they did? Absolutely not. A simple "thank you" or "I appreciate that" will suffice at times. For those members that consistently go above and beyond the call of the job description, more recognition is needed. Nominate them for your Department's Employee of the Year or Firefighter of the Year Award. Nominate them for a similar award from a local community group or civic association. If they're not selected the first time, don't be deterred. Keep nominating them until they get the recognition they deserve and more importantly, the recognition you feel they deserve. Show your troops your nomination so they can see what you really think of them as a person and a firefighter in addition to their performance. The honor of being named a Firefighter or Employee of the Year will go a long way towards maintaining a high level of motivation.
Money talks. Don't take the easy way out and just check "Standard" when evaluation time rolls around. Be truthful and accurate. Don't just check boxes. Fill in the blanks with appropriate comments. Try to get your troops 5% or 7% instead of the usual 2% (or whatever numbers are appropriate in your jurisdiction) if you feel they deserve it. Extra money for a job well done can be a tremendous motivator. Show your troops their evaluation like you would an award nomination so they can see your comments. Comments like these are what can keep people motivated for another year and maybe get them to raise the bar a notch or two.
When your troops show initiative, motivate them by supporting them and encouraging them. If they want to set up a company or battalion drill on a particular topic, let them run with it. If they want to branch out and set up a drill with other agencies, by all means, let them. Empowerment can be an excellent motivator. If they want to teach a class for the company or battalion (or the entire Department for that matter) do all you can to assist them. The feeling that one gets after getting a "Job Well Done" after tackling a project like this is priceless. Knowing that it was all made possible by a supportive Company Officer will motivate the individual to take on similar projects in the future.
One of the best ways to motivate your troops is to support them in their career development. If a firefighter tells you that they would like to make Company Officer or Driver, do everything in your power to get them ready for the next promotional process. Assign them to an Acting Position if you or the regular Driver happen to be off. Try to find the time to allow them to study while on duty, particularly as the Promotional Exam approaches. If another firefighter tells you they would like to transfer to the Hazardous Materials Team or a Technical Rescue Team, do anything you can to prepare them for the move. Make arrangements for them to ride with that Team for a few shifts. Help them get the prerequisite training that they will need in order to be considered for transfer to that Team. If you know ahead of time that a particular Team has a drill scheduled see if your firefighter can attend and assist. Never stand in the way of your crew's career aspirations. To do so lowers productivity and kills morale. It is also a disservice to your crew and your Department.
Never be afraid to stand up for your crew. A good crew will always be motivated by a Company Officer who is not afraid to take a stand for his crew. Once the crew realizes that you have their best interests in mind, they will go the extra mile for you. This increases the combat effectiveness of the unit and promotes cohesiveness among the crew. This is motivation at its simplest. The crew is motivated to come to work every day because they want to.
There several ways to motivate your crew and several sources available to you in order to get this information. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Company Officer to motivate the crew to the point where they are hard charging, effective, knowledgeable and make it a point to come to work every day because they want to be a part of the crew and a part of the Department.