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.