The following blog post was submitted by Peer Supporter Ryan Lettieri (Rolling Meadows FD) which includes a link to a pertinent article he read, along with his commentary on the same. Please read the article, then his post. Ryan’s hope is that this will start an open dialogue on this subject matter where others will also share their point of view in the Peer Reporter. Thanks, Ryan for this entry.
I recently read and digested the included article on PTSD and how it affects the fire service as a whole. I began to think if our hiring process, schedule, and culture is really designed to protect us from the trauma that we see on a daily basis or if we have negotiated and pursued these subconsciously in response to the trauma we see. After all, the culture (and schedule) of the modern fire service has changed over the years and can cause an applicant to try and “fit the build” of the type of individual he or she believes the department is searching for.
Our hiring process is a long, drawn-out waiting game followed by a week or two of complete terror as a candidate has every aspect of his or her personal life, physical capacity, and mental capacity examined, exposed, and investigated. It seems as if we as a profession want to “find the ones who are resilient” because they will likely function at a high level in the face of stress, not to mention they are less likely to stumble if they have clearance from a cardiologist, a detective, some guy running a polygraph, and a shrink……right? Nope, we have individuals that can no longer handle the job because either their personal or professional life was too much. There’s no shame in that, it’s not these individuals’ fault, after all who would want to leave a career that they put so much effort into getting in the first place?
When the trial does occur, the probation period includes input and evaluation from shift personnel and supervisors who are technically evaluating the candidate on ability to complete tasks and make decisions. The more I thought about what we look for in a new employee, it seems as if we envision that individual in the situations we’ve struggled in: maybe a fire, an intense medical call, or something else.
We see if we can picture that person having the capacity to persevere through the struggles we’ve felt both physically and mentally to ensure that the new firefighter will be able to effectively cope with what he or she is about to experience. Honestly, our evaluations are somewhat irrelevant and much too basic to be completed in a year of probation. We have to know that the new firefighter “gets it” and will learn how to cope with not only what he or she sees in the people we serve, but also in us. If they’re struggling, we need to recognize the signs and talk to them. If we’re struggling, we have to know that the new guy or girl will point it out to us in an acceptable way: not in a judgmental way, but as a friend. We must be sensitive to the needs of the individual and assure them that they will not be punished or ridiculed for the struggle they’re experiencing. We must also attempt to assist our friends in the searching they must do for the root of the issue they’re experiencing.
Let’s face it, we’re all a bit broken, and we EXPECT our friends to help us navigate our issues. After all, at some point we all play the role of a cardiologist, a detective, some guy running a polygraph……..and a shrink.