Rekindling the Flame: The Secret to Job Satisfaction in the Fire Service

I love the story of Ray Sidejas, operations manager of custodial guest services at Disneyland. Ray spent 46 years keeping the “happiest place on Earth” clean.

Ray didn’t originally think he’d work at Disneyland for long. He held down two jobs while attending college to earn a degree in Police Science. When he graduated in 1969, however, he had an opportunity to apply for a management position in janitorial services at Disneyland. He didn’t expect to get the job, but he did, and ultimately Ray chose “staying with Disney and dealing with the happy side of people” over being a police officer.

Ray spent the next 46 years on the happy side, playing an important role in teaching new employees the Disney culture. He traveled to Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Euro Disney as the Disney universe expanded. He helped develop Disney’s Custodial policy and procedures manual—something all of us in public safety can relate to.

Retirement from his custodial job did not come easy for Ray. When his colleagues asked him about retirement, Ray would say, “I’ll retire in two years.” Then six months or a year later, he’d say the same thing. He finally retired on September 30, 2011.

Why do I bring up Ray’s story? Because it holds a powerful lesson about choosing a career you love. Ray loved what he did. He didn’t think it was his life’s calling at first, but once he realized it, he devoted himself to it completely, and made it last as long as he could.

I bet even Ray experienced those days when the children seemed cranky, the sun extra hot and the messes to clean up never-ending.

As firefighters, we are a lot like Ray. We have an opportunity to work in one of the most rewarding careers imaginable. Some of us fantasized about joining the fire service from the time we were little kids; others of us took meandering paths to get here and may even be surprised we made it. But we’re all in this “happy place” that is the fire service.

But it’s easy to forget that, and to find ourselves in a funk. I’m sure you’ve seen it within your organization and even yourself. That’s OK—it’s normal and I bet even Ray experienced those days when the children seemed cranky, the sun extra hot and the messes to clean up never-ending.

When we sense our motivation waning, simple changes can help refocus us on why we’re here and enhance our sense of fulfilment.

  • Change the way you work. The fire service is built on routines, and we need them to ensure operations continue efficiently and safely. But you can still make small changes. Maybe you start working out on the job instead of after your shift. Or introduce different rotations for chores, cleaning and cooking. Training is a great place to try out new tools and technologies and practice new drills. There’s no shortage of ideas out there—try a few and see whether they change your outlook.
  • Push yourself. Sometimes boredom or dissatisfaction in your job is a sign you’re ready for the next step on the career ladder. Consider taking a promotional exam or moving to another division or bureau. If those opportunities aren’t available right now, ask your boss about taking on extra projects. You might be surprised how a challenge can motivate you.
  • Take care of yourself. When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to feel good about everything else. Do you need to lose a few pounds? Get those endorphins fired up and start exercising. Get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation, eating poorly and not getting the right amount of exercise are downright dangerous. Renew yourself and you just might feel renewed in your job!
  • Look at the positives. Every job has negative aspects—even Disneyland. Just ask Ray, who as a young custodian had to clean up what the Disney horses left behind! When you find yourself focusing on the parts of the job you don’t like, try to write down several things about it that are positive. Make that a habit—taking a few minutes each day to think about why you like being in public safety. It’s important not to approach this exercise defensively. You’re not building a pros-and-cons list. If you find yourself thinking “OK, I love that my schedule gives me lots of freedom … BUT I really wish I made more money!” then you’re doing it wrong. The idea is to foster gratitude. And you can have gratitude for your job even if you ultimately decide that you need to move on to something else.

Ray chose to work at Disneyland and eventually left a legacy behind. You chose to work in the fire service. Now it’s up to you to make this the happiest place on Earth!

Sam DiGiovanna

SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 40-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. He also is also a Senior Consultant for Lexipol and the Cordico wellness solution.

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