Low Shift Morale
Our department is a small one. We have 18 full-time firefighters, and about 12 part-time firefighters.
We just recently had some significant changes as a result of an internal investigation where everyone was disciplined to various levels. Significant staffing changes were made, particularly on one shift. I happen to be on this shift, and morale on our shift has plummeted. There are a few individuals on the shift that are constantly stirring stuff up, and it has honestly made coming into work much less desirable. I do my best to not participate in this negativity or spread rumors because it makes me sick. I love this department but some people just bring negativity to work everyday and do not let it go. I know all departments and stations face this, however, our situation is dramatically affecting the productivity and our effectiveness on calls.
What can I do as a tailboard firefighter/paramedic to improve shift morale? (I have almost no seniority either) Can anyone recommend any particular articles or books perhaps? Any advice is greatly appreciated.
Are your Company Level Officer(s) aware that there is low morale on your particular shift?
How about the Senior Man? Is he aware? (The senior man is always aware.) Has the senior man had a "locker room" or "parking lot" discussion with the scumbags?
What are they doing about it??? If there is a group of self-serving cretins lurking about looking to make mischief in the form of stirring the pot, the Company Officer should be stomping on their heads behind the closed door of his office. I wont go into what needs to be said and how to say it, but the Company level officer needs to make his voice be heard to these people- unofficially and off the record, one time and one time only. After that, he/she needs to utilize whatever official means at their disposal to bring conduct unbecoming charges against the cretins.
In the meantime, by your admission you are at the bottom of the totem pole. Not much you can do other than to keep your nose clean and dont let their actions influence you. Do your job, do it to the best of your ability, and dont worry about what the other guy is doing inside the firehouse.
You can, however try to improve morale by arranging dinner every night if you guys dont already do that. Everyone eats dinner together was a rule I used to have when I acted as the boss. We are a family, we break bread as a family at dinner. How about off-duty get togethers- fishing trips, camping trips, dinners out with the wives......company picnics, amusement park visits, etc etc etc etc. Get with your senior man and ask what you can do to help improve morale.
Good luck- it sucks when you have a great job but the actions of a few scumbags have to ruin the mood.
If your whole dept. was diciplined for "doing wrong", somethings really gotta change. Not knowing the whole story, I have to say I've never heard of such a thing. I would assume either you have a dictorial chief, or you had a good 'ol boy system that had to be straightened out.
Be that as it may, your dept. needs to move on. I think a good sit down talk where everybody opens up as brothers and dicusses solutions to the problem. You're going to have to encourage each other, and motivate one another to be positive. Start acting like a family, go out once a week and do something, sometimes maybe even involve the family. It will take time, but seek out the respected guys in the dept for advice and leadership.
I think FWD hit the nail on the head and johnsb had some good points. Keep up the good work and focus on your little world of the fire department. Be positive in everything you do there, be the best firefighter you can be, dont talk about others behind their back, dont spread rumors and above everything except your integrity, be loyal to your shift. This is going to take years to recover and it may require a change in the some of the cast of characters before it will be straight. As far as articles or books, I dont think there are any specifically for you, but strong leadership will be the key to this recovery. If I had one source to recommend for those leaders, it would be anything by Kim Allyn (she's really hot too).
We joined a flag football league. We were the worst team in the league and never won a game but it brought alot of us together. It forced some members who may have had issues with one another around the firehouse to play together on a team and depend on each other. Moral shot through the roof! We were never a "bad" FD when it came to scene operations, but now I believe that we are even better than before!
We still have our "Debbie downers" and "Negative Nancy's" but they are quickly becomeing the minority and are finding themselves openly being labeled as "the problem."
Seniority has nothing to do with how you carry yourself. Keep a positive outlook and remember the aspects of the job that love. An old timer told me a long time ago, "If you're doing a job that you love, then you'll never have to work a day in your life!"
I don't know, or really care, for that matter what precipetated the department wide disciplining. To me that probably is not the cause of the majority of the morale issues or the reason for the negativity and pot stiring. There are people that no matter what is going on they will find something to bitch about.
The advice given so far is solid. Talking to the company officer or senior man is a great idea UNLESS they are part of the problem. That can be another problem entirely. I had the displeasure of being stuck on a crew with a VERY negative officer and a crew of "Debbie Downers." I survived the year by doing my own thing. I cleaned and took care of the tools on the rigs by myself, washed the truck I was assigned to and kept it clean and organized, I brought in projects fom home to work on during "after hours down time", I read a ton, spent time on the computer looking up all sorts of fire and non-fire related things, and prepped for classes I was teaching for my part time job.
This is not to say I didn't spend anytime with the crew, but if it got to the point where all that was going on was the same old BS bitching I went and did something else. Why stay and be subjected to that over and over?
You are a Firefighter-Paramedic you don't have to put up with any B/S for long...Too many good jobs out there.
Find something to bring pride back to the house. That could range from dinners every night to custom t-shirts made for your shift, will need to be OK'ed by the dept most times if you put the dept name on it. Pick up basketball games, fixing up the station with something as simple as some new paint... there are a lot of things you can do to raise morale. I think that getting out there and training hands on does a lot of good as well. I see it as the same as working out, you don't want to at first but once you start it feels really good. We are all fireman and most love what we do, training hands on gets to be a lot of fun if you can get the guys off the couch and participate. Being the rookie firefighter you can ask the senior guys to help show you the ropes, or to do some basic search patterns. It's a hit to the ego but it will do you and everyone else a lot of good.
I read this post and I had to double check who wrote it to make sure it wasn't something I wrote sometime ago! It fits my department almost to a T, with a few differences of course. So, to not get into my department too much, I know exactly what you are going through. Our morale problems stem from different things, but low morale is low morale.
Low morale for whatever reason is a tough thing no matter who you are or what rank you are. Obviously, the lower your rank, the more difficult it is to help make changes to make things better for you and the department. Our morale has been at a low for awhile, and I wish I knew all the answers, because I most certainly can use them. I have, however, found a few things that help me.
I know this seems silly, but one thing is to just stay positive. I know this seems difficult, and there are many times when you just cant. But try to remember the good things. Remember that you are there to help the public. Try to put a positive spin on everything you do. Being a smaller department (same size as mine exactly), I can imagine the things you probably have to do while on shift. I know that you probably spend a lot of time doing other things besides fighting fire. A lot of what we do makes a difference, even if it is not extinguishing a fire.
Also, stay above the mediocrity of others. It appears you are, but sometimes it is an easy trap to fall in. Those trouble makers don't really have the best interest of the department at hand if they are causing problems. Rise above them and as others have said, keep your nose clean. Also, if there are people that you can trust and are doing the right things, stick with them. A group doing the right thing can help make a difference.
I tell myself this every day, but things are bound to get better. Those not doing the things they are supposed to...well, it will catch up with them at some point. Things have a way of working out.
Most of all, stay safe in what you do. If the problems in your department may compromise safety on a call, then this is something that needs immediate attention.
I know I don't really provide answers, but it is theraputic to talk about your problems and to realize that you aren't the only one seeing these same issues.
Stay safe and good luck.
From Buddy To Boss......Effective Fire Service Leadership" by Chase Sargent. Although I have not read the entire book, I have read a few chapters and skimmed over others. I think that there is very good info here that would be beneficial.
You mentioned rumors being spread at work. We had this issue at a firehouse where I work part time. The Chief (who I have great respect for) came in one morning, and gathered everyone around the table. He then put some parts of a small puzzle on the table and asked us what the picture was. With in a minute or two we figured out that there were pieces missing and we didn't know what the picture was because of the missing pieces.
He showed us through this exercises that if don't have all the pieces of information, then you don't have the whole story. Just like we couldn’t tell what the picture was because we didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle
Just a follow up dchelix, are things better with your department? I am somewhat happy to say that things have been going a little better at my department. Granted, there are always things that occur that bring us down again, but I can't say it has all been bad.