Overcoming Stale Firefighter Syndrome

A firefighter stands in front of a burning building during a firefighter training evolution.

Photo by Tony Greco


Article By David DeStefano

Even firefighters in the busiest companies spend the majority of their time on other tasks than active firefighting. EMS, service calls, routine station duties, fire prevention activities, and many other projects are part of the daily firehouse routine. Over time, other priorities gain a foothold in our daily activities. Preparing for fires may take a back seat not only to other fire service activity, but to the distractions of smartphones, laptops, tablets, and the many other accessories that have become a daily ritual for millions of Americans.


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It is certainly not possible, or advisable, to isolate yourself from the world while working a tour in the firehouse. But spending time each day in the firehouse investing effort in “the job” will make you a better/safer firefighter, and you company more efficient and productive on the fireground.

Stale firefighter syndrome may start with one member losing interest in training sessions or failing to keep his or her personal equipment in order. Over time, a complacent attitude may permeate the entire company. One key to preventing this stale attitude is developing a company routine that revolves around activities that are good for the job as well as fulfilling to the needs of each member. While the company officer should take the lead in this process, it should be an exercise rooted in democratic principles that allows each member to have a personal “buy in” to the value of the routine. Many departments set forth weekly requirements that address standard training needs, district inspections, and other routine work. However, a company routine can incorporate these duties and usually accommodate some activities uniquely tailored for the firefighters and officers assigned to that unit.

These activities may include drilling with tools specific to the company. In a squad or heavy rescue, specialized equipment such as air bags, confined space, or high-angle rescue tools are used for low-frequency/high-impact incidents. It is prudent to keep operating skills sharp with complex systems that are not frequently deployed. In engine or ladder companies, a review of positioning the rig for difficult locations, or pumping complex hose stretches, relays, or other scenarios may keep veteran firefighters minds “in the game.”

Another approach to keeping members invested in the job is to allow each firefighter to plan and execute company training on a topic of their choice. This practice requires an investment of time for planning, research, and delivery of the training material. The drill will augment the knowledge of the entire company and allow firefighters to hone their skills in the role of the company officer, who is a first-line instructor.

Sometimes an effective strategy to break or avoid stale firefighter syndrome is simply a good round of storytelling at the kitchen table. The firehouse kitchen can be one of the best learning and motivational environments for any fire department. Recalling an unusual incident, challenging fire, or recent rescue provides multiple benefits to anyone within earshot of the kitchen. Remembering the best parts of the job, learning from experience, and keeping members abreast of recent incidents will stir emotions, inform firefighters, and usually bring constrictive discussion and another round of stories recalled by a new narrator.

No matter if you employ one method or chose to offer a variety of methods, spending some time each shift thinking of the job can only help make your company and your firehouse a more functional and efficient resource for the entire fire department. The only way to keep stale firefighter syndrome at bay in the long term is to encourage a “buy in” from each firefighter. Providing a format that all members are comfortable with can promote this acceptance.  

David DeStefano is a 26-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department where he serves as captain of Ladder Co. 1.  He previously served as a lieutenant in Ladder 1 and Engine 3, and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He is an Instructor/ Coordinator for the Rhode Island Fire Academy and teaches a variety of fire service topics throughout Southern New England.  He can be reached at dmd2334@cox.net




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