Simply by taking a quick glance at a company’s apparatus will tell all about the attitude of the company members. (Bill Carey photo)
There are many characteristics that are used to describe a good firefighter but attitude is the driving force behind all of them. The most important aspect about attitude is that it is 100% within your control. Everyone has 100% control over his/her attitude at all times. Not only is attitude 100% within your control, it is also contagious.
Your attitude whether positive or negative will affect the attitude of others around you especially if you are in a leadership role such as the company officer or the senior man. There will always be those with a negative attitude, those who simply view the fire service as a job. Do you want them to influence the rest of the fire service or do you want the rest of the fire service to be influenced by those who view the fire service as a lifestyle, as a calling?
One of the areas where a firefighter’s true attitude will show is in training. In his 2009 keynote speech at the Fire Department Instructor Conference, Lt. Ray McCormack (FDNY) stated “You know where you want to get to in training? Where your people are self-motivated and start their own training”. Self-motivation is one aspect of attitude that sets the exceptional apart from the majority. Do you need to be motivated by others to want to improve or are you self-motivated to always work to improve your skills? While some will say because the fire service responds to less fires now than it did in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we don't need to spend as much time training on firefighting as we don't respond to as many fires. The self-motivated firefighter uses the fact that fires do not occur at the same rate as they did in the 1970’s and 1980’s as motivation to train even more as there are less opportunities to utilize the skills needed and therefore they must train even more to ensure they maintain mastery of their skills. The self-motivated firefighter understands that the reduction in the fire responses creates a greater need for training as there are less opportunities for the on the job training that occurs during fire responses. Firefighters who arrive at the fire station eager to train and to learn are some the biggest assets not only to that individual company but to the whole fire department. The self-motivated firefighter understands that operational effectiveness is always the number 1 priority and that the difference between operational success and failure is determined in training. The goal of the self-motivated firefighter every time he/she enters the fire station is to improve operational effectiveness. There are many examples of this mentality in the fire service such as Fit to Fight Fire’s motto “Would You Want You Rescuing You?”.
The self-motivated firefighter will become an inspiration to and provide motivation for other firefighters to become more like him/her. Attitude is contagious and firefighters will be drawn towards other firefighters with a positive attitude who are self-motivated. This is because surrounding yourself with others who are always improving means you will improve as well. The fire service is full of firefighters with type A personalities with a competitive nature. When these type A personality firefighters see other people training and improving their skills, it will motivate these firefighters to work and train even harder to improve themselves.
A company officer with a company of self-motivated firefighters must both encourage the self-motivation of the firefighters as well as ensure that the training needs of the firefighters are met. The company officer must ensure that the daily company schedule allows time for these firefighters to train, not just on the required daily company training but also to allow for these firefighters to train on the topics of their choice. In a company full of self-motivated firefighters, the company officer must be equally self-motivated. The company officer must continue to lead and set the example for the company.
Another area where attitude will be visible is in the maintenance of apparatus, equipment, and the fire station. The attitude of the members of a company is obvious simply by looking at the apparatus and equipment assigned to them as well as their fire station. Simply by taking a quick glance at a company’s apparatus will tell all about the attitude of the company members. For example, a quick glance at the hose bed on an engine will indicate the attitude of the company members. A hose bed where each hoseline is neatly and properly loaded indicates that the company members take great pride in their performance and are self-motivated to ensure that their apparatus and equipment is operationally ready at all times. Conversely, a quick glance at an engine with a poorly loaded hosebed indicates a poor attitude of the company members.
The same can be said of any of the equipment assigned to the company such as the difference in the attitudes of the company members of company who upon opening an apparatus compartment door all tools are in place in the compartment in a clean and operational ready fashion and the compartment is clean compared to opening the apparatus compartment door to find dirty tools inside of a dirty compartment. The firefighters who regularly remove equipment from the apparatus to clean it and ensure it is operationally ready without being ordered to do so indicate to the company officer their attitude and the level of pride that they take in the company and its equipment. Attitude is greatly demonstrated by the way that firefighters maintain their apparatus, equipment, and fire station.
The goal of every firefighter should be to improve every time they enter the fire station. This mentality leads to firefighters constantly seeking out opportunities to train and improve their skills. These firefighters will also seek out other like-minded firefighters and try to surround themselves with other motivated firefighters who work to improve on a regular basis. It is these firefighters that all firefighters should seek to surround themselves with as well as model their attitude after. The attitude of these firefighters is contagious and over time will spread among other firefighters who do not initially show the same attitude and self-motivation. It is the self-motivated firefighters who are the backbone of the fire service as they can always be depended upon. They will not allow any outside factor to affect their operational effectiveness and therefore will always put the department first. It is the job of the company officer and the fire department’s leadership and administration to facilitate the needs of these firefighters by ensuring that opportunities are always provided for these firefighters to improve.
ANTHONY ROWETT Jr. is a Captain with the Mobile (AL) Fire Rescue Department. He previously was a firefighter with the Ogdensburg (NJ) Fire Department. He has an associate’s degree in fire science technology from County College of Morris (NJ), a bachelor’s degree in fire science, and a master’s degree in emergency services management from Columbia Southern University in Alabama. He has been published in Fire Engineering magazine and FireRescue magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.