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UT psychology department helps improve morale among Texas firefighters

Chief Ken Bailey noticed his crew wasn't motivated. He wanted to create an environment where everyone felt like they belonged.

AUSTIN, Texas — Firefighters work long shifts, away from home, helping keep the community safe. It's a tough job, but when morale is low, it makes it even harder. 

"Our department faced some issues with our staffing," said Ken Bailey, Travis County Fire Rescue chief. "It was about the group dynamics and how we were dealing with our employees."

That's when Chief Bailey reached out to the Psychology Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. 

"They gave us a sense of direction that gave us a sense of weight to the problems we were facing," said Bailey. 

Alissa Mrazek, a UT Psychology department research assistant, sat down with Bailey to find out what was happening and what needed to change.

"One of the biggest ones was a lack of trust among crews," said Mrazek. "Some crew members were pretty disappointed in the communication style about big organizational changes."

Many people were leaving, some looking for a career change and better pay.

"One of the biggest reasons for why they even show up to work in the morning is because of that crew integrity," she added. "That bonding is just so important. But then, once again, if you have an organization that's expanding and has so much turnover, you're constantly getting new people and that crew integrity is just not there."

Being able to rely on your team is something that you need. Especially, in this line of work. 

RELATED: ATCEMS: High call volume leads to 28-minute response time on low-priority call

"We're running calls on people on the worst day of their life," said Luke King, Travis County Fire Rescue No.11 lieutenant.

Since then, leadership has changed the way they do things.

"They started having more ... friendly competition in the organization," said Mrazek. "Where the results for various skill assessments were known to everybody in the organization."

Knowing others' skills helped increase trust among the team. In an anonymous survey conducted by Mrazek, she discovered that over 90% of the team felt that work conditions improved. 

"I can see some light at the end of the tunnel," said King.

Communication between the staff has also improved. While there are still things to be addressed, they're headed in the right direction. 

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