A few weeks ago I was one of three team members who had the opportunity to present the ILFFPS concept to the Bolingbrook Fire Department, the others being Kelli Krupa and Tom Howard. Each time I present, I improve upon the delivery of our message by changing the emphasis on important points. What has truly added to these events is the ability to share our informational video which eloquently drives home the point of our mission.
I begin the post-video discussion with the topic of situational awareness, that every first responder is schooled on during each professional development class that he or she attends. Situational awareness basically means taking in the big picture, as well as being cognizant of your surroundings at all time (visual, auditory, or olfactory senses-don’t rely on the last one). For example, you are inside a burning structure and you start to hear the building moan and creak-possibly signifying a pending collapse. If you do not pay attention or miss this detail, the results could be disastrous. One may ask at this point how this relates to behavioral health in the fire service. Let’s take a look.
I continue the conversation by relating that one of the most difficult things for a firefighter to do is to separate their professional from personal lives. However, it is paramount that when at the scene of a fire the individual must focus on the task at hand versus allowing the mind to drift to the big argument he/she had that morning with their spouse or significant other. Otherwise, they may miss that the fire started in the basement of a multifamily residence, and communicated to the third floor where it is showing upon arrival to the scene. This leads to the second point in my discussion.
All too often we can become overwhelmed and consumed by the demands of our daily personal lives. This in turn affects our professional performance: A once positive and happy firefighter begins to exhibit road rage, interpersonal conflict with peers, excessive sick days, etc. They start to make errors at emergency scenes with regard to tactical decision-making. Does any of this sound familiar? One thing to keep in mind is that we are human beings first, and emergency responders second. We are not superheroes nor infallible, and can succumb to the pressures of daily life just like anybody else. So, how do we keep our head in the game amongst any personal chaos?
I conclude the presentation by stressing to my brothers and sisters that we, the individual, are the most important person in the self-care paradigm. If we can recognize in ourselves that our ability to do the job is being stunted by our personal or professional conflicts, then it is time to step up and ask for help. In the face of adversity, we must have the courage to ask for and except any assistance available on the road to healing. It is always better to take care of oneself before someone else mandates that you do so (such as your chief). Furthermore, if our colleague does not recognize they need help, then as a brother or sister we should have an honest conversation with that person and extend a hand of friendship and healing rather than condemnation. However, at the end of the day, self-care is a personal responsibility.
Future posts will cover self-help strategies. As always, if anyone out there wants to share their own healing experience please email me your story so that all may benefit. Until next time-