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Positive Attitude Part 2

Cultivating a Positive Team in The Fire and EMS Services

In the last blog entry we talked about the city or township administration, the ones who cut our checks, and how if not careful that administration can erode department members' morale and create a negative attitude. First let me clarify, the fire department and EMS agency "boss" is the community. The taxpayers. They are our boss. The elected governing body is who creates policy and cuts our checks.

With that said, as promised we will look at how the department's leaders can be complicit in the erosion of morale!

Policies come from the top. They are a result of the elected governing body requirements, laws, rules, budget, whims, expectations and so forth. Those items are ordered to the chief or agency head. It is up to those folks to implement what those elected folks are mandating. Sometimes this is done without even an understanding by the command staff of what is expected? Why it needs to implemented? Sometimes it is simply passed down the chain of command to all levels as an order. 

This type of order is different than a fireground or emergency scene order. It does allow for a "soft sell". Chiefs and agency heads need to have an understanding of what is being implemented and why. That information can be passed down the chain with the reasoning. A real life example of the soft sell is below.

Sometimes also the chief or agency head creates its own policy. Lets face it, there are two things firefighters hate. Change and the way things are. Justifying the need for the policy is key to acceptance. 

I have heard in the past, responses from non engaged or frustrated leaders things like ... "Because I said so", "it is what the mayor wants", "it is an order so do it"! In a paramilitary organization, the choice is clear. You comply. You can grieve it if you have a union but does it need to get to that level? Can the soft sell work?

Failure to "sell" the policy correctly can result in a negative attitude towards the department leadership. That can spiral to adversarial confrontation, multiple grievances and even lawsuits.

A Soft Sell Example

When I was a Captain at H&L 39 in Cleveland, an order came out from the chief where every member of the department needed to carry their EMS provider certification card with them at all times. The order stated that it was a board of pharmacy rule. This prompted immediate backlash from the majority of the firefighters of all ranks. In Ohio, those certification cards are on card stock (now they are on printer paper printed by the member). The fear was that the card stock would get wet from sweat or water from fire suppression activities and be destroyed prompting a request to the state for a replacement. Since I had been the EMS coordinator recently at that time, I knew with 100% certainty that was not true.

I told my staff we needed to comply immediately and I would communicate my certainty up the chain of command with proof, but cautioned them that all the administration has to do is re issue the order and make it a department rule. That's exactly what they did and they were extremely upset with me for causing the embarrassment of a rescinded order and the new need to print and distribute108 copies of the revised 8 page order. I'm ok with accepting the wrath in order to have my crew's back.

In the effort to comply I had a meeting with my crew and the engine crew. Since it was a non emergency order I let the members know that even though we have to follow it, we can decide how we were going to comply. I solicited the group for ideas. Some said we could keep it in our turnout coats in a ziplock bag which would always be on the rig. I suggested that doesn't meet the spirit of the rule and that it has to be on your person. Another idea that was floated was that our station house fund could purchase a laminator and we could laminate our cards. That would protect them from sweat of from water from fire suppression activities. This was accepted by the members and they purchased the laminator and within a couple weeks all member certification cards were laminated. Additionally, members on detail from other stations or on overtime got their cards laminated. We got calls from other stations asking if we could laminate their members' cards. 

Having the members determine how they were going to comply was an extremely positive action, This allowed them to take ownership in their work environment and that caused 100% buy in. That unpopular order went from being "bull&*$#" to something positive. THIS is an example of the soft sell and should be a model for implementing non-emergency orders.

Next blog we will look at circumstances that erode morale as well as personal issues that may affect members attitudes!

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