Elusive Spirit Makes Fire Fighters Out of Personnel
Esprit de corps? Pride? Enthusiasm? Gung ho? Just what is it that makes one fire department consistently perform way over its head while a neighboring department performs only adequately?
Some paid departments with a miserable pay scale and few benefits perform brilliantly on the fire scene while a nearby department, enjoying all benefits and superior pay, only goes through the motions! The same holds true for volunteer departments. One volunteer group will have a magnificent turnout at drills and is faultless at fires. Other volunteers have spotty attendance records at drills and find themselves spread thin at fires. There is some elusive quality that hangs over certain groups of men, inspiring them to give their utmost in times of need. Whether inbred, cultivated or inherited, nevertheless it does exist.
This esprit de corps is unique to few groups of men. The Armed Forces would like us to believe they hold the patent on it and go to great lengths to encourage it. Slogans, special uniforms and insignia are all part of their campaign to instill this spirit in their men and proclaim it to the world. That it works cannot be argued, but they are wrong to think this spirit is unique to them alone.
Boston ladder companies certainly possess it. They rightly hold the distinction of being the best in the country. They are not the best because of pay. Boston fire fighters hover near the end of the pay scale in relation to other large cities. It is not that they have exotic or even up-to-date equipment, because here again the fire department budget allows few frills. Their gung ho spirit appears to come from within the department. At fires, each ladderman seems to say, “I can do it!” And more often than not, he does. Their record of rescues via ladders and their laddering of buildings goes far beyond any plan or technique.
Recently, Chicago’s Snorkel companies have shown this special spirit. Some of their work sings of pure inspiration.
A volunteer department with this spirit is readily aparent. Actions of the men at drills and fires shows smartness. Whether on the farm or in town, their knowledge of the buildings they protect and their use of fire equipment results in lower fire losses.
Leadership and drills
In a paid department, it is more the rule than the exception that, once appointed, a man remains for all his productive years. Whether this man learns his job and performs it well rests on many factors. Leadership, frequent drills and modern equipment all enter into the picture. His attitude towards this lifetime work shapes the contribution he will make to the job. This attitude can be shaped into a gung ho spirit. Just what is this spirit and how can you as a chief infuse it into your men?
Good working conditions? Yes! A good pay scale? Yes! Reliable equipment? Certainly! All this helps, but more important is the men’s knowledge of the job and their equipment.
The volunteer, by his very act of joining, shows his spirit. This spirit must not be left to wither. A pat on the back, publicity where warranted, a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of a job well done—all these bolster this spirit.
Value of learning together
In either a paid or volunteer department, there must be constant drills so that men work together and learn together. A fire fighter is sure of himself if he knows what to do and is aware of what his fellow fire fighter can do. He will overextend himself if he is sure the man working with him will back him up.
Leadership is important. Good officers inspire good fire fighters. Fair and equal treatment of all men is necessary, regardless of friendships, politics or what have you. Praise should be given where due—and prompt discipline when needed. Plan alternate methods of attack in case the first plan fails. There is usually more than one means of accomplishing an end. All these points and more help to inspire this spirit.
Once started and given fertile ground in which to grow, this enthusiasm must spread. It feeds on itself and soon grows too big to contain. Once a group of men believe they are the best, once they possess that “I can do it” feeling, then you have a fire department!