Firehouse Excellence

At FDIC on Tuesday, March 22, Seattle (WA) Fire Department Captain Mike Gagliano and Fire Department of New York Captain Michael Dugen offered students a lively yet frank and honest talk about creating the perfect firehouse environment, one that welcomes firefighters rather  than alientating them.

There is nothing quite like a firehouse. It can be the most incredible experience of your life or a miserable exile to purgatory. It can be a place of learning where skills are honed and techniques refined or a stagnant cesspool where competence erodes into ineffective complacency. What is it that causes one place to be cohesive and brimming with camaraderie while the place just down the road is filled with dissension and drudgery?

Gagliano began by saying, “We want to build a firehouse where everyone wants to be; a place where we take care

of each other.”

Dugan then explained, “Everyone contributes to the vision of what we can be. Where you choose to focus your efforts will determine the degree of your influence.”

Both captains then put the responsibility for firehouse morale squarely on the shoulders of the department chiefs, by explaining, “The number-one thing that destorys morale is watching firefighters do something that everyone knows is wrong. If I can’t look you in the eyes and see that you care, you’ve lost me.”

Dugan continued, “You can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to how you respond to certain things. Focus on things that matter.”

Gagliano and Dugan strongly believe in the impact a good firehouse can have on both individuals and fire departments as a whole. Gagliano says, “No matter the size, make-up, or primary mission of an individual firehouse, we believe it is possible to implement some basic core principles and make it a great place to work. As we’ve traveled around the country, many individual firefighters are relaying the message to us that they love the job but work in a place that is stealing their passion. This class is for all those out there who truly want to work in a place that understands the mission, prepares for battle and takes care of its members. Once you work at a place like that, you will never be comfortable with less.”

Gagliano concluded, “Our hope is that every student leaves the class refreshed and energized to make their firehouse a great place to work. And that they feel better prepared to meet the challenges that inevitably come from those who have given up and are settling for mediocrity. We have the greatest job in the world… It’s time to act like it and make our firehouses excellent.”

Firehouse Excellence: It’s Up to You


A good firehouse has an impact on individuals and fire departments as a whole, according to Captain Mike Gagliano and Captain Mike Dugan at their “Firehouse Excellence” workshop Tuesday morning. Traveling around the country, Gagliano and Dugan have heard the same message from many individual firefighters: “They love the job, but work in a place that is stealing their passion.” But no matter what the individual firehouse’s size, make-up, or primary mission, it can be a great place to work if certain basic core principles are implemented. 

The most essential element for outstanding firehouse is that members realize their role matters, and that they must put the team’s needs before their own. When that attitude becomes contagious, most everything else will fall into place very rapidly. Firefighters must feel the burn to do whatever it takes to make a firehouse they can be proud of. 

Focusing on certain critical areas is essential in making a great firehouse: presenting a compelling vision, exhibiting individual responsibility, demonstrating house pride, teamwork, and preparedness for whatever task must be done. 

The presenters drew on many years of experience in good and bad situations, weaving personal experiences, videos, and class participation to inspire individuals to pursue “what could be” and not just settle for “what is.”
Firefighters truly want to work in a place that understands the mission, prepares for battle, and takes care of its members. “Once you work at a place like that, you will never be comfortable with less.”

Mike Gagliano has 24 years of fire/crash/rescue experience with the U.S. Air Force and the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, where he is the captain of Ladder 5. He co-authored Air Management for the Fire Service (Fire Engineering, 2008) with Casey Phillips, Phillip Jose, and Steve Bernocco. Michael M. Dugan is a 25-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, where he is the captain of Ladder Company 123.