The Silent Dilemma: Quiet Quitting in the Fire Service

Sept. 14, 2023
Dan Kramer believes that by implementing targeted strategies, fire department leaders can address the issue head on.

Quiet quitting is an increasingly prevalent issue within the fire service. The phenomenon isn’t unique to the fire service, but it is one that greatly affects the capability of departments to recruit and retain members.

Quiet quitting in the fire service occurs when firefighters disengage from their duties and responsibilities without formally resigning. They continue to attend work but are detached emotionally and lack the motivation that once propelled their career.

Effect on the fire service

Quiet quitting is a complex and multifaceted issue. It often is difficult to identify. Firefighters who quietly quit might continue to perform their basic tasks without outwardly showing signs of disengagement. However, their lack of enthusiasm and commitment can have numerous detrimental effects. These include:

Decreased performance. When firefighters are disengaged, they might not fully commit to their tasks, which results in subpar performance. This can compromise the safety and effectiveness of their team.

Members of the community expect the fire department to arrive and fix the problem that they are encountering. Chief officers not only want to ensure that the highest level of customer service is provided but also that members are safe in all aspects of their job.

Lower morale. The negative attitude of firefighters who have quietly quit can spread to other members and throughout a department, which can erode team cohesion and create a toxic work environment.

Morale often sits on a very fragile bubble. One wrong move from department leadership or political governance can send morale plummeting.

Increased safety risks. Disengaged firefighters might be less attentive to safety protocols. This can jeopardize the well-being of their colleagues and of the public who they serve. We want everyone to go home at the end of their shift. Safety is paramount to ensuring this. Complacency kills. Period. Failure to follow safety protocols can end with sudden and tragic consequences.

High turnover. As quiet quitting becomes more common, departments might experience a higher turnover rate, which leads to increased recruitment and training costs. When members leave an organization, they often take years of experience, training and leadership with them, much of which is irreplaceable.

Potential causes

Several factors contribute to quiet quitting in the fire service. Some of these are:

Lack of career progression. Limited opportunities for advancement can lead to frustration, a sense of stagnation and disengagement. In a cruel twist of irony, some of the best run organizations can tend to have low turnover and, thus, offer some of the fewest opportunities for career progression. Departments that aren’t growing can be daunting to new members as far as there are few internal advancement opportunities.

Inadequate recognition or rewards. When firefighters feel undervalued or unappreciated, their motivation might wane. This can lead them to disengage from their duties.

There are different schools of thought here, but the premise is sound. Members often work hard for you if you ask them to. If you don’t take the opportunity to recognize that hard work, then you contribute to the decline of morale. Members often need no more than a simple thank you. It costs nothing and can be accomplished in seconds.

Poor leadership. Ineffective management and lack of support from supervisors can create a demotivating environment.

Experience doesn’t equate to leadership potential. Some of the worst leaders who I worked for had decades of fire service experience. Chief officers must take the time to develop their fire officers and ensure that these people are well versed in leadership as well as fire tactics. Both are equally important.

Work-life imbalance. The demanding nature of firefighting, coupled with long hours and irregular schedules, can strain personal relationships and contribute to job dissatisfaction. Mandatory overtime should be avoided at all costs. Obviously, in this line of work, there are times when more people are needed to fill an apparatus to keep it in service. When morale is high, volunteers for overtime shifts tend to be more prevalent.

Organizational culture. A toxic or unsupportive workplace culture can undermine morale. That said, a culture never is easy to change. As the fire service develops and younger generations enter the workforce, the culture changes organically. The days of yelling and screaming are gone. The days of taking the time to mentor and develop have taken their place.

Addressing quiet quitting

To tackle quiet quitting, departments must implement a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of the problem.

Providing clear paths for progression and skill development can help firefighters to feel more engaged and motivated in their role(s). A large portion of the department budget should be committed to training opportunities for members. Members should have a relatively clear guideline on Day 1 of where they will be in 5, 10 and even 20 years.

Regularly acknowledging and rewarding firefighters for their efforts and accomplishments can boost morale and job satisfaction. When people receive praise, they realize that they are appreciated, and they realize that leadership has its finger on the pulse of the department.

Promoting strong, supportive leaders who understand the needs of their team members can create a positive work environment. Taking the time to develop leaders in all facets of the job is critical. Not only should company officers be able to make quick decisions, but they also must understand how to deal with people.

Implementing policies and programs that promote a healthy work-life balance, such as flexible scheduling and family support resources, can help to alleviate job dissatisfaction. When members need time to just be away from the job, you must support that.

Many members unknowingly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This has negative effects on their home life and work life. Without the proper balance, a true resentment for the job can develop, which leads to more turnover.

Encouraging open communication, teamwork and mutual respect can contribute to a more supportive work environment that helps to prevent quiet quitting. Multiple generations currently work in departments. Each generation has different expectations of the department and brings a unique set of life experiences to the table. Organizations must make all of those aspects part of their culture.

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