Crew and Personal Mental Health Preparedness
Plan for you, so we can plan for them.
Compartmentalization. It’s a big word, with huge meaning, bigger consequences and a humongous impact on our community. Now do me a favor and pump the brakes for a minute. First and foremost, emotional trauma and our day-to- day stressors pile up. They get us individually and can impact the department’s we serve. There’s a whole lot of cultural change happening right now in the fire service.
Who am I kidding? It’s built on change – but one thing undoubtedly remains the same. The calls keep coming in, and we keep going out. We drop our tools, meals, and jokes in the house and leave them behind to go out the door to help someone else. It’s what we do, and we do it pretty well as a service. Gordon Graham once said, “Whatever you’re doing, do it well and get it done.” I find this to be quite true regardless of the emotional weights we carry every day with us.
The big question on my mind, and hopefully yours, is who is watching your back? I have concluded that I have learned a lot from several people that influence me in my career; some of which are my dad, my peers, and the probies that have come after me.
Just from my experience, the calls stack up and will get you at some point. Your reason might be different than mine, but stay with me for a second and make your own analogy. For me, it was one call that did it and like many of you, I didn’t know it at the time.
To paint the picture for you, the call summed up was as such; two-vehicle accident, multiple entrapped, three kids ejected, and there were three of us on the first due – and we were it…for 10 minutes.
We all have this call. It got me six months down the road one day when I saw one of the kids at the grocery store. I talked to my old man about it. He’s been in the service for 35+ years now, and he leveled his call with me. The canvas for his looked like this; single-wide trailer, fire blowing out hard upon arrival. He was on the first due engine which arrived directly after the Battalion Chief dispatched. They stretched a line, forced the door, and then found a family of five stacked up directly behind that door. The crew let the BC know over the radio, who said something along the lines of, “We ain’t fighting no fires today, everyone come forward to do CPR.”
There were three kids in the family…one of them looked exactly like me.
We all have this call. It got my dad the next morning when he saw me coming off shift. All of us have a duty to ensure that everyone on our shift goes home. Making a point about that to the next generation is absolutely necessary, and talking about the stressors, trauma, or your “call” to the current generation is just as important. What I want you to do now is ask yourself if you have someone to talk to. Then ask yourself who your buddy has to talk to. Then ask yourself who the probie has to talk to. It is important to have someone you can call at midnight because something’s bothering you. It’s important to be open about it with yourself as well. Find yourself that battle buddy and make sure that everyone on your crew, young and old, has one.
Now back in my day, we still had dogs in the house for the horses, and so, the firehouse dog was born and brought into the fire service. What I’m about to say, I understand, that there are departments that have policies against dogs in the station, however, I’m just giving you another tool in the toolbox. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that what we do is stressful, and takes the cake as the most stressful job out there. Studies have also shown that spending time with dogs reduces stress levels on a physical and mental scale. I want you to think about introducing a furry friend to the family, maybe not a station dog, but one that you and your crew can all see together on a fairly regular basis. I find that it helps me get through the day-to-day things that pile up on me.
It is my hope that in reading this, it might help you too. So next time you sit down after calls with your crew, and a cup of coffee in hand, bring a furry friend to hangout with and let them watch your back for a change.
Many of us are social people; we are a family, as you very well know. Day-to-day we tend to compartmentalize, though. The little things build up and can knock us off our game. My hope is that by being open and having a plan in place for ourselves, we will be prepared for when the little things have piled too high or “that call” hits you. In my mind, it’s just one logical thing to do to keep us a little bit sane. Think about it, talk to your crew, and make a difference for them and you.
After all, I am here for we, and we are here for them. Bump up and plan.
– Lt. Will “Grandpa” Parry
– State of Alaska
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