Fire Service Team Building

By John K. Murphy

Sir Walter Scott one stated that, “Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even more than by mental capacities.” To me, this means that we need to have employees that are willing to work hard combined with the capacity to learn new material, whether that’s on the job, at home, in school or life in general. Many of us remember learning our trade and wondering when the heck we’d use that newly acquired skill. We’d wonder why we were reading that chapter or doing that drill. Math was my problem. My dad was an engineer and he was all about applied science, string theory, and molecular engineering. Back in his day he used a slide rule because computers lived in large buildings and were not carried over your shoulder. His ethic was that hard work will make you a better person and hard work at math will make you a great mathematician. My dad’s theory was flawed because I eventually joined the fire service, using some math, and went to law school so I would not have to do math. What does that have to do with team building? My entire life has been as a member of a team, whether that be in sports, the military, the fire service, being married with children, or working as a firefighter. I have learned to follow, to lead, and to be a great team member.

How does one become a great team member? For me it was simply learning the goals and objectives of the organization and determining my role in accomplishing that goal. I’d ask myself: What tools or skills do I require to work with the team in accomplishing the goals? How do I fit in with the other members of the team? At times, teams consist of individuals who have never worked on a team or do not have a clue of how to work on a team, usually because they lack of prior experience. They have always worked solo or as a discordant member of a team, which caused the team to struggle. Sometimes these individuals need to leave the team or, as the new metaphor states, “gets voted off the island.”

On any well-functioning team there needs to be followers as well as leaders. Not everyone can be a leader, but all of us can be followers while learning leadership skills. Leadership also comes in many forms as there are natural leaders and appointed leaders. I have had the good fortune to be a follower and a leader and have worked for and with good followers and leaders. Not all individuals can follow or lead, and that is where a strong team can achieve the objectives of any service or business and be successful in spite of those obstacles.

As a firefighter and chief officer, I have worked or lead great teams with different disciplines and skills. In my fire service career, I have seen individuals work extra hard to ensure that the departments goals and objectives have been met; have cross trained in other positions to fill in the gaps when one of our team members is absent because of injury, vacation, or illness; and have stepped up to the plate to get the job done and have worked longer hours until the job gets done. What is most remarkable is that firefighters have been doing this with a smile on their faces and honest conversation when things go sideways. Not a snarky word is heard from other team members when it appears that a member of our team is not well-versed in a procedure, policy, or a skill. I have seen team members pulling together to teach each other how to do or interpret the rules and regulations of our industry.

Team building is not easy and takes hard work, a strong work ethic, personal integrity, and genuine honesty. It takes a team to make our organization successful, and members of my chosen profession, the fire service, have those common traits among them ensuring our successes.

Legal matters for firefighters: John K. MurphyJOHN K. MURPHY, JD, MS, PA-C, EFO, retired as a deputy fire chief after 32 years of career service; is a practicing attorney; and is a frequent speaker on legal and medical issues at local, state, and national fire service conferences. He is a frequent contributing author to Fire Engineering and a podcast host.



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