How do you motivate your firefighters to train, work out & stay involved with their communities and industry?

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In the last 12 months, we introduced a theme in our unit, "From Good to Great".


We acknowledged that we have some fantastic members, but like all volunteer emergency services, we struggle at times with motivation, participation and responses.


The idea with the theme was to say that we're good, but we could be great. But the big thing behind it was instead of the management team telling people how to be great, we asked the members what do they think great looks like?


To get them thinking along these lines, we ran a 1 day workshop with a wide and varied range of facilitated sessions. I hate to use the wank-word, but we empowered the members.


We wanted to know what would keep them as members, what training they wanted to do, what equipment we needed and many other areas.


The program for the workshop was roughly as follows:

Opening Address by the Unit Controller- reflection on the past 12 months, where we've been, what we've achieved.

The Changing Lanscape of the Service by the Regional Manager- where is the service as a whole going, what's driving that direction and what we need to do to prepare for it.


As a whole group, we then brainstormed What Skills Do You Bring the Unit? We have a wide range of volunteers with some really useful skills we did and didn't know about- IT experts, Microsoft Office experts, Gardeners, document designers, etc.


As a whole group, we then brainstormed What Will Keep You Here as a Member? Is it more training, less training, providing meals, allowances, etc.


We then broke everyone into 4 groups and each group spent 1 hour brainstorming and discussing the following topics:

  • What equipment do we want/need?
  • What training do we want/need?
  • What fundraising activities should/shouldn't we undertake?
  • What changes do we need to make to our HQ? And combined with this one What does our Ideal HQ Look Like? (This was for a long range project to upgrade)


We had the day catered by an external company- it was a bit of a treat and it also allowed us to focus on the topics being discussed.


The big thing that we instructed the members, was that no idea was out of bounds. It was a day to brainstorm, not to discuss, argue, etc.


By the end of the day, we had redecorated the walls of the meeting room with 15 large sheets of flip chart paper, with an amazing array of ideas and discussion points!

The final part of the day was for the members to identify their top 4 topics in each category. From there, we then asked for volunteers to form up committees:

  • 1 for training
  • 1 for equipment
  • 1 for HQ upgrades
  • 1 for PR/fundraising


We asked the Section Leaders in the coming weeks after the workshop, to chair the committees and asked them to explore and start to discuss all of the ideas, but most importantly, action the top 4 topics from the day. They had to discuss the merits of the topic, research it, gather prices (if required) and come back to the Management team with a proposal.


We've now started to implement many of these ideas. Some of them are really simple- like repainting, others are to redo the landscaping/gardening. Others include the purchase of additional equipment.


What was really interesting was that simple things like repainting the entrance foyer and cleaning it up, were top priorities for the members! I think we were all a little surprised at how simple some of the things were....


Where are we now?


We still promote the them "From Good to Great". We talk about the things we do with those words used during the discussions. For example, a few weeks ago we negotiatied a fantastic price on a new 55" TV, DVD Player, Projector and PC for training. We showcased this to our members with words along the lines of, "As we move from providing Good training, to Great training, look at what we've now got...."


It cost us a bit of money, but we also went and had navy blue t-shirts screenprinted with the "From Good to Great" logo on the right chest, and the unit logo on the left chest. This was two fold- it was a reminder to everyone of wha twe're doing and where we going, and there's now also no excuse for someone not wearing the correct coloured t-shirt when required!


With the committees, the members still have the power to be invovled and influence what we do, and how we get there.



One bit of advice- you have to be willing to let go. You have to be willing to let the members have their say. You have to willing to HAVE SOME FUN While doing it!!!!


It's been the best thing we've ever done!



trying to motivate your people can be a hard job,it is not easy,we try to involve as many people as we can to keep them motivated in training,the resposibility also lays on the individual to work out to keep fit,i personally started tacfit station workouts to keep myself fit,it is also up to the individual to help out in the community,some do more than others but that always seems the way,

Motivation IS difficult, but there are ways to improve it. 


1)  Feeling you are valued as a member of the organization is absolutely CRITICAL to positive motivation.

     a)  LISTEN to your members.  They have talents, ideas, things they want to try, training they want and need.  One of the surest ways to kill motivation is to ignore what people say, especially with volunteers.

     b)  FOLLOW THROUGH with what you say you will do.  Not someday, not next year, but ASAP.  If you don't, your people will lose faith in you.


2)  As an Officer, from the Chief on down, YOU must keep up on training, you must PARTICIPATE in inhouse training, you must be up on cutting edge technology with equipment, apparatus, and tactics.  And if you aren't you had better listen to you fiefighters that are or you will look out of touch and stubborn.  (One of the biggest gripes on my #1 POC FD is the lack of participation in training by our officers, when it was pointed out to them that many of our firefighters had higher certifications than they do, some shrugged and a couple others went and took FF1.) 

     a)  It is hypocritical to stress that your firefighters train, and get specialized training, when the officers refuse to do it themselves.


3)  Don't waste people's time.  If it is a training night have something set-up and ready to go.  So many nights on my #1 POC FD we would come down to the station on drill night stand around for 15 or 20 minutes, listen to BS, and then the chief would say well let's go drive the trucks or we need to run the small power equipment.  The trucks do need to be driven if we haven't run them in a while, and the small power equipment does need to be run and maintained, BUT NOT ON DRILL NIGHT and not month after month after month.  When enough people became unhappy with the lack of inhouse training a new training officer was appointed and scheduled training began.  Positive change coming from the troops not being satisfied with status quo.


Just skimming the surface but these are important ways to motivate. 


shouldnt need to motivate them if they have a passion for the job it should come naturaly

I have seen highly motivated people, with a passion for firefighting, be driven out of the fire service by many of the circumstances I mentioned above.

Great in theory Sarah, but the reality is that everyone at some stage in the career will go through a phase where motivation is an issue.


Whether it be external pressures (ie: family, etc) or internal (ie: missed promotion, etc), everyone suffers....



I've said it before and I'll say it again, "You CANNOT motivate anyone. It has to come from within." You can give someone REASONS why they should act a certain way, or modify a behavior, but the other person has to make the decision to change. For example, you might be implementing a physical fitness program and want everyone to participate. Unfortunately, too many times the conversation goes like this:

Chief: We're implementing a fitness program.

FF: I hate working out.

Chief: Don't you want to be in shape?

FF: Round is a shape.

Chief: Don't you want to be in better condition to perform the job better?

FF: I do my job just fine as it is.

Chief: Think of your family. Don't you want to be healthy for them?

FF: I hate my family.

After much debate...

Chief: Well consider this an order.

FF: Okee Dokee, see you in court.

Unless the FF has an internal desire to change, there is no external force that can make him change. If you threaten his job, the FF MAY say to himself, "If I don't do this I could lose my job. If I lose my job, I might lose my house, can't pay for my kid's college, etc." Or he may say, "It doesn't matter what you say, I'll never change." Some people don't respond well to threats.


Having said all that, find out common interests and work from there. If everyone is competitive, make a competition out of your fitness program. Person who loses the biggest percentage of weight wins. Person that has the greatest improvement in weight lifting percentage-wise, etc.


It all comes down to a personal commitment. Either they care or they don't.

 it is  a hard topic as some people need the motivation but if they really need the motivation then they musnt be happy in  there job an maybe its not the path they should follow, i have worked many jobs where ive felt un motivated an didnt enjoy it, i realised its not the path for me an changed direction till i found something that is. ive had external pressures with family but i kept on giving it my all, it was the place where i could forget bout it all an enjoy what i do




My first career job as a firefighter was a clear indication to me how motivation, pride, and desire to be innovative can be destroyed by absolutely horrendous leadership.


I came into that job wide eyed and excited as I could be about being paid to be a firefighter.  I couldn't imagine a better job in the entire world.  But overtime it got to the point that I absolutely HATED going to work.  Not because I didn't love the job, not because I didn't find it interesting, not because I wasn't proud to be a firefighter, but because of leadership that seemed to thrive on heavy handed control, trying to instill fear into the firefighters by rumors, and lack of interest in innovation that had been proven elsewhere. 


I left that department and got hired onto another career FD.  I would be lying if I said every day was sunshime and roses but most days are good.  We are allowed to be innovative, creative, engage in training that has meaning, and while we still have rules I roll my eyes at at times there are far less of them here.  I like coming to work, I enjoy my job, and I like the majority of the guys I work with.  


Motivation is internal, but external forces affect that everyday.


What's scary here Don is that every word you said is not only true but a given with most fire departments. And why do these folks continue to do the things that make us shake our heads... I believe it's called tradition... Just sayin'

How silly to give someone choices. Either you are physically and mentally able to do the job or not. Southern California department have adopted the Pack Test used by the USFS to qualify firefighters for arduous work. If you can't pass the test, then you can't get the red card that enables you to do the job. No job means no paycheck. That's motivation...


Tradition?  Not hardly.  


Weak leaders rule by threats, intimidation, and the use of rumors and fear.  They use ridiculous rules and regs and selective enforcement to maintain control.  They divide the firefighters by having favorites they protect, "enemies" they always harass and blame for all the wrongs of the organization, and those that just seem to pass through the day under the radar.


I don't believe it is a given with MOST FDs, I believe it is a given when POOR people are placed in leadership positions that are clearly over their head and know no other way to supposedly lead. 


Tradition? Nope, sorry can't agree with that.  Sadly people in positions to choose chiefs often look more for people that will go along with their vision of the fire service and not what the fire service truly is.  

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