To My Brother and Sister First Responders,
Yesterday we celebrated my last day of active service with the Alsip Fire Department. When all is said and done, I will have served just slightly over 25 years in this uniform. Tomorrow will be different as I have worn some type of uniform that represented employment with either a federal, municipal, or private entity in service to others – dating back to my time in the Army. I had many laughs and shed some tears as I experienced both the joys and pain of others. At the end of it all, I learned 2 valuable lessons I wish to share with you all.
Everybody has stuff
From the day we arrive on this planet, the story of our destiny begins to unfold, and with it we begin to accumulate a personal story of both good and bad experiences. This history follows us into the first responder world – some of which, may have already had a profound effect on our being. There will always be one unwavering truth about our time spent here: there will always be multiple generations serving at the same time under our roof.
Welcome the new members to the first responder family with an open mind instead of with judgmental eyes as we so often tend to do. I challenge you to meet them where they are at, get to know them as a person, and be the best mentor possible. I am not saying that you have to be best friends, but at least observe him/her as they operate within their “norm”. This will help you to recognize when things may not be going well and you can open a conversation with “Sit down my friend and tell me a story.” You never know what kind of a response that statement will prompt, but it is well worth taking the time to do so. Due diligence can change the life of one who is struggling.
Never Leave Behind Those Who Lift Us Up
We never enter this chosen path by ourselves, as most certainly we bring other stakeholders along with us on this journey to include: spouses, parents, significant others, and siblings. It is our duty to make sure they are educated in what it is like to be a first responder. You do not have to share every detail, about every call- just the nuts and bolts of the profession. Why? Because this job will profoundly change is some shape or form.
This is uber important especially if you begin to have struggles of your own (remember, the history you bring with you can compound this effect). There are many peer support resources that currently exist that can help you plan in advance should you need it. Our stakeholders need access to these organizations, and be granted permission (by you, the responder) to contact for assistance. Your inner circle has the potential to travel with you on this journey for 20 (+) years – please do not leave them behind.
To those who follow after me – it’s your world now. I leave you with an Eagles song that best captures the moment of this day.
Take care and be well always,
P.S. I am still going to be around doing peer support as this has made all the difference in my finding balance once again.