AUSTIN (KXAN) — Faced with stressful situations daily, first responders have to be on top of their game for every call. But when Travis County Fire Chief Ken Bailey noticed low morale, he looked outside the department for help.
“One of the things we found was our teams were not performing particularly well,” Bailey said. “We were suffering from burnout and attrition.”
Luke King has been a firefighter for more than a decade. He said he loves his job and serving his community.
“I became a firefighter, because I had always wanted to be an asset to my community,” King said.
In Travis County Fire Rescue ESD No. 11, some firefighters were leaving.
King said there was too much of an emphasis on training, which is important, but added there wasn’t enough emphasis on what the crew needed.
“Being very good at your job, but a lot of neglect came on the guys’ personal lives or what was going on at home,” he said.
Noticing low morale, Bailey reached out to the University of Texas at Austin. He said while the department was focused on building up crew members’ technical skills, they weren’t focusing on some of the meaningful aspects of people and their employment.
“He wanted to get our help to try to peel back some layers to figure out what was at the core,” said Alissa Mrazek, a research assistant professor with UT’s department of psychology. “So a lack of trust was one of the issues that we identified and another issue was something that they called ‘crew integrity.’ It is chemistry among the crew.”
King said morale has improved and he now feels more confident speaking to his supervisors. Bailey added he has also noticed a change in attitude.
“Our attrition has decreased dramatically,” Bailey said.
Bailey said they sent out a survey to see how things have changed and found 90% of firefighters feel pleased with the district’s leadership, culture and communications.