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Let's Talk Fire: Motivation

Updated on December 7, 2015


Disclaimer- I know these things are getting annoying but they cut down on some trouble for me so here goes nothing. This article is in no way a reflection of my opinion on any individual or department. This article is meant for education and entertainment only not to be viewed as an insult or cheap shot at someone. If you feel this article is about you than I am sorry, not for writing it but for the fact you feel that way about yourself.

Motivation On The Fire Ground

It is easy to lose motivation in the fire service. A Strong leader can remedy that.
It is easy to lose motivation in the fire service. A Strong leader can remedy that.


I recently had the privilege to attend the Johnson County Fire School in Paintesville KY. This fire college offers some of the best firefighting training in the state. I took a class with several colleagues of mine known as Firefighter Survival and Rescue. This class is one of those classes that will put fear in you very quickly. The class is usually made up of young guns trying to achieve their certification and old dogs after a refresher. I often volunteer to take the course with new firefighters to help them along and make them comfortable having someone they know there.

During my times taking this class over the years I have seen something I felt and still feel is vital to the fire service and that something is motivation. Seeing a firefighter struggle getting his partner up a flight of stairs one second and then after a rally from the others watching find the strength to finish the task really opens your eyes up to the sheer power of motivation. I think if we saw more of that in our service we would see a lot more positive changes. This state training allows us to get that motivation from so many levels.

There are many forms of motivation that exist in the fire service. As firefighters we will usually encounter them all. They can include motivating by fear, insult, kindness and even by simply lending a hand. The different types get different results from different firefighters. It is just like how different teaching methods may spark different modes of learning.

Motivation Will Help Encourage

The Bad Motivation

We have all seen chiefs motivate in manors that were unbecoming of the fire service. Threats of punishment linger overhead and you will see firefighters complete the task at hand but in that process they also grow to not trust the leaders they serve under. Threatening a firefighter is no way to truly get them motivated the right way. Sure, they may complete the task and do it well but there in the back of their mind you create a fear that if they mess up they may be punished.

This causes firefighters to forget that they do in fact have limits and that forgetfulness may lead to injury or even death. Out of fear of punishment from the higher ups may cause a firefighter to go further than their body will allow at training. Fear is no way to motivate.

An even weaker mode of motivation is to use insult. "You lift like a girl" or "I can do that in 12 seconds and you take all day". Are comments made by an ego that needs to be taken down a peg. To be a leader you must be able to follow and to be great you must know how to humble yourself. Insulting firefighters to try and motivate them only serves to make them resent you and in turn lose trust in you and the ability you may have to be a leader.

I have heard of chiefs who ridicule firefighters who make achievements by saying things like "I could do that too but I see no real point to it", or even "all that to get a pat on the back". It is a very childish way to act. During wildland firefighting class I once heard a firefighter tell another he would get his certification but he had nothing to prove and was not a suck up. Needless to say this individual is no longer fighting fires.

Often this form of motivation is merely a way to insult firefighters under the disguise of trying to help them. It should be avoided and not used to try and encourage firefighters. I know we all look at coaches who do this and think wow they really get their team going. The difference is the season will end and all can go back to normal. Thus is not the case with the fire service my friend. We have to work with these leaders and that means we have to endure insult so they can feel they are encouraging us. It is absurd.

Good Motivation is the only kind that really works.

Never insult, it isn't motivation it is simply an insult.
Never insult, it isn't motivation it is simply an insult.

Worse Motivation

I know it is hard to believe that there is a worse form of motivation than insulting a firefighter but there is. Setting up scenarios so firefighters fail just to make a point. This is by far the act of an egotistical person and should never be regarded as proper fire training. I agree setting up failures is acceptable but not if you are doing so only to make someone look less than capable. I can not tell you how many hose mazes I have ran in which the victim literally moved around the room so I could not find them just to have a veteran firefighter run in and save the day when I came out empty handed.

This method of motivation may seem profitable but in the eyes of the firefighters who see this one person fail they start to lose trust for them and their abilities which is not far to them. If you fail it should be on your own merit. Failing is good in training because we learn from and adapt based on that failure but if the situation is a fail simply to make us look bad we tend to just distance ourselves from the training all together.

I hate to be as blunt as the striking end of my fubar but leaders who lack the skills to motivate properly do not deserve the leadership role they are in and need to be taught that respect and learning are nurtured more with kindness than with mean attitudes.

Motivational Video

Positive Methods of Motivation

During the drills we completed at the fire school I mentioned earlier it was not uncommon to hear firefighters screaming "you can do it, don;t give up" and of course applauding when a fellow firefighter completed a task. This was a great way to see the emotional bond firefighters have with each other.

This is a form of positive motivation. Even when the firefighter falls short of the task, you don't scold them. You say good try, learn from it and try again. It took one team three tries to complete the stair rescue but they never quit and once they found a method that complimented their abilities they did it twice with no snags in the game plan.

There are toms of ways to motivate without being offensive or abrasive. Tell the firefighter what I like to call a compliment sandwhich. No probie you can't eat it. Maybe they did not complete the low profile crawl because they were not comfortable taking the pack off. Tell them one good thing they did, than why they failed to complete it, then end with a positive way they can improve. Firefighters generally want to do good so they will gladly take this productive criticism much more than they will take negative attitudes.

Motivation can breed firefighters.

Positive motivation can lead to new recruits and an interest in the fire service.
Positive motivation can lead to new recruits and an interest in the fire service.

Other Methods

Motivation is vital to ensure firefighters are seeing that they are accepted and approved of on their department. It also is a great way to encourage them to do better each time they perform a task. I find that a few kind words will really do the trick. I helped to teach a few new guys some methods at the fire school and was very pleased with most of what they did. I did have one kid who was upset because he just could not do the ladder bail out the right way. I told him he went out right and had the right mindset but when he went to grab the ladder he was actually grabbing it when he needed to us an open hand method to avoid getting snagged up.

The kid went back up and sure enough he got it. Other firefighters began cheering for the guy and for the rest of the day he was dead on with every task. It was truly a blessing to see this kid take hold of the job and run with it like that all because he was made to feel he could do it. Motivation is a very powerful thing.

One thing I like to see is that the entire department get behind every member and really let them know they want them to be the best. It means a lot more then competitive attitudes I can assure you that.

Wrapping It Up

A motivated department will develop trust in each other and that bond can lead them to great things. The motivational attitude needs to start with the leaders but in many cases that does not happen. Sometimes the leaders are just not willing to put aside the methods they have used in the past or some may just not know how to motivate in any way other than what they are used to. Even if the leadership in your department lacks the motivation to motivate, yes, probie you can laugh at that, you can still step up and do it yourself.

Each member of the department can be supportive of each other and eventually this will trickle up to the leaders. I assure you once this level of trust and devotion to each other is made you will have a much stronger department. I saw people who had never met truly get excited to see another firefighter succeed on a task. This really hammered home the brotherhood aspect. My favorite moment may have been when one of our own firefighters finished a very difficult task and than I heard one of our other firefighters yell, that was awesome and she is on my department. That pride in each other means a great deal to the fire service.

Well nozzle noggins until next we meet stay safe out there, remember to put hot sauce on the probies cereal and always learn from our past for survival in the future.

Join Us!!!

That's right from chief to probie we are taking all firefighters under our wings. Let's Talk Fire is on Facebook and we would love to hear from you. Join the page and enter into discussions and debates and really get to know your brothers and sisters from around the globe.


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