As I travel around North America teaching about the response to emergencies involving hoarding conditions, one troubling statement keeps coming up. Firefighters are being ridiculed for being too passionate for the fire service. How could this ever be allowed? Many firefighters, of varying ages, have stated that the firefighters in their stations have called them “ate up” or some other name because they have a deep-rooted passion for the fire service. Why anyone would want to squash the motivation of another person is beyond the comprehension of this jumpseat rider. Let’s take a jumpset view at why this happens.
Burned out firefighters - Maybe the folks that are trying to kill the enthusiasm have been in the service too long. Burn out is something that many see or experience during our careers. The constant stream of seemingly meaningless calls mixed with some no rules or loss of staffing can effect even the most motivated firefighter.
If a firefighter is exhibiting these behaviors in your department it could be a sign of something deeper such as family troubles. Reaching out to them in a non-confrontational way could offer some insight into their worries or troubles. If we are truly being a part of the brotherhood/sisterhood we should be doing this automatically anyway. Caring doesn’t cost a thing, but can pay big dividends to our firehouse family.
Nervous firefighter - Taking out your nervous energy on a fellow firefighter is common for someone who doesn’t feel confident in their skill set. Commonly taking the focus off of themselves and pushing it toward others is a tactic used to distract attention away from their struggles. Noticing this behavior when on the training ground can give some insight in to the deeper issue. Do they hang back and talk about the fires they “have" ran or do they jump in feet first and perform the skills like everyone else.
When you notice them hanging back try to get them involved in a non-confrontational way. Take a moment and ask, "Hey, XYZ firefighter, can you show me how to do XYZ skills? I would love to hear your opinions or suggestions on how to perform it better." Allowing that person to show you the skills can reinforce the need to get them involved and show them that they can perform or use this time to help them with their struggles.
Eager beaver - So we can remember the days of being the eager beaver in the firehouse. You know the one that is always asking questions, the first one to get dressed, and is always hoping for a run. While many of us have grown past the point in our careers we should never try to suppress them. Redirecting that energy is perfectly acceptable, but becoming the negative person and passing this negativity down to them should be stopped right now.
Use their excitement to infect your station. Take their enthusiasm and allow it to recharge everyone's batteries for training, drilling, and bonding as a family. Having a new baby is one of the most exciting times in a family’s life. Using the introduction of a new or eager firefighter should be much like having a new baby. It’s like receiving a fresh hunk of clay that needs to be molded into a good firefighter. Make sure your clay doesn't just get molded, but make a masterpiece out of it.
Jumpseat Rider's View
Whether you have one month or 20 years on the job we should take extreme steps to keep morale up at our fire station. While we may not be the eager beaver that we once were, we should remember the days were we couldn’t wait for the next run and did everything possible to make sure we stayed ready! Don’t ever squash someone’s enthusiasm for our profession. Instead of breaking them down, take steps to learn why you have lost your passion. Bring it back and it let show for the entire department to see!