Growing up on the Gulf of Mexico with the “Whitest Beaches in the World”, I would frequent the blue-green water many times a year, to enjoy the sound of the waves. There is a calming effect to the gentle waves that would lap the sand. At times, though, the wind from the direct south would cause enough of a pressure to cause the waves to become moderate to heavy. There was tremendous power in these waves, and there again, was consistency. But at times, while standing on the shore, there would be a rogue wave, that would come farther than expected. The water line was there, in the sand, marking how far the water usually came, but these waves had their own plan.
In the fire service, we can have the tendency to get into a rut, routine, or habit that bad things will not happen to me. There have been the close calls, near misses, or however you want to call it, “That was CLOSE!”, but that happened to someone else. Just as the Gulf of Mexico lulls you into thinking it is okay to stand at this point at the edge of the waterline, the constant medical calls, MVA’s, Activated Alarms, etc. can put us into the “Comfort Zone”.
But then comes the ROGUE Wave, reaching up to a point farther than it has been pushed before, bringing more water than expected to a place that was not ready, and bringing the destruction to an unsuspecting area of the beach. So, how do you prevent rogues waves from happening? YOU CAN’T! With the dynamic, ever-changing job that we encounter, both career and volunteer, no two calls are the same. That is the appeal to most of the firefighting/emergency profession and calling.
What is to be done? The answer is more simple than you might think. Can you guess? TRAINING! Training exposes you to situations that you may incur in the field, but not all of them. This is where you become, as Mark VonAppen would say, “A Rogue”. http://www.mark-vonappen.blogspot.com/2013/12/rogues.html? Being ready for anything is more than just hands-on training. It is reading, studying, educating, developing as a leader, etc. Following sites like The Secret List (One of the most rounded websites for what our brothers and sisters throughout the world come across that is classified as “Rogue Waves), Statter911, County Fire Tactics, Fire Engineering, Firehouse and many more. It involves networking by going to conferences, online blogs, and even social media training groups. Being proactive allows you to bring every aspect and experience into your “Slideshow”.
Though not very old (I think), I remember the slide projectors in grade school being used to show content of teaching and pictures. A good friend once compared the slide projector to our fire service training. Then Firefighter, now Battalion Chief, Brock Jester relayed the similarities by saying, “Every time you train, you make a picture. Every call you go on, you make a picture. Every class you take, you make a picture. When the time comes to need those pictures, your brain will search the contents and try to find something with similar content. If you don’t have it, what will you do? Create as many pictures as you can, for the time you need the projector to help you in your job.”
Create the pictures in your life to allow the best preparation for the time a “Rogue Wave” decides to bring an unprepared event or scenario to you in your career and Stay Safe!
– Joel Richardson
We recently published an article that identified some of the protective factors that help reduce the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in career firefighters (here) but what about the risk of PTSD with those of you that are volunteer firefighters?
The National Fire Protection Association reported that there were “approximately 1,140,750 firefighters in the U.S. in 2013. Of the total number of firefighters 354,600 (31%) were career firefighters and 786,150 (69%) were volunteer firefighters.” (NFPA, 2014).
That is a huge number of you that volunteer day in and day out to interrupt your normal life at work or home at a moment’s notice and jump at the call to help your community. How do you go from responding to a call one minute and then immediately go back to whatever it was you were doing before you raced to the fire station? Unless you found this magic on/off switch on your body somewhere, (if you did, you should patent that right away), you can’t just shut it all off and go back to your life as it was right before a difficult call.
Many small town America fire departments can sometimes barely afford the equipment you need just to function let alone fund the support you would need following a horrific call.
This one hits home for me because I can remember like it was yesterday hearing my father’s pager go off in the next room, alerting not only him but the entire family that there was a crisis in our small town that needing rescuing. I can still hear the front door slam shut and hear his footsteps pound the sidewalk as he started to run the block down the hill to the volunteer fire station. Each time that pager went off, the men that volunteered for our small town quickly tossed off their hat of being a construction worker, farmer, banker, and ran to put on a helmet and gear. You always knew that our volunteer fire department was out there saving the day when you saw all the haphazardly parked cars and trucks belonging to our firefighters scattered along the street downtown. They got to the station as fast as possibly, never knowing what crisis was awaiting them, never knowing if they were rushing to help a neighbor, a friend or even a family member.
So, you put your life on the line as a volunteer, and your community would feel your absence if you weren’t there, right? Why is there such limited information out there on how this drastically impacts your mental well-being?
It appears that there has been a total of two, that’s right two studies on the effects of trauma on volunteer firefighters. It took a grad student in Ontario, Canada to publish one of them in 2010. Brad Campbell, a Seguin Township resident, a graduate of the School of Social Work at Laurentian University, conducted a two-year study of nine volunteer firefighters to help figure out how big of a problem this really is. His thesis can’t even be found online to see what this 95-page book says because it is probably tucked away on some dusty library shelf in Ontario. The big take away from his two-year study was this: volunteer firefighting psychological trauma remains overlooked.
I don’t think that comes as a surprise to most of you. If you are interested in reading the super short article about that, you can find it here.
Sometimes it doesn’t just stop at PTSD either.
The effects of PTSD can lead to even bigger and more permanent problems, such as taking your own life.
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) is currently tracking the number of suicides each year for all firefighters, both volunteer, and career. Last year alone there were 112 suicides. Since the FBHA started tracking this information in 2012, there has been a total of 754 suicides.
We are talking about 754 avoidable firefighter deaths. Many of these suicides could have been prevented if there was help readily available, easily accessible, and perhaps even required. You can find more of this research at FBHA.
The reality here?
A volunteer firefighter has an increased chance of struggling with PTSD. It could be assumed that the volunteer has an even greater chance than that of a career firefighter because the protective factors are not in place as they are with career firefighters.
Now imagine responding to call where a teenager has been ejected from a vehicle, you are first one scene, and the teen is a mangled corpse. You place her human remains into a body bag, finish the call, and return home to wash the blood off your clothes just in time to enjoy dinner with your family and the 6:00 news.
This scenario, which is common among volunteer firefighters, highlights the need for intervention. Encourage your volunteer fire department to take the initiative for all their members. PTSD support should be a priority for every department.
PTSD isn’t about what’s wrong with you, it’s about what happened to you.
There are resources out there for volunteers. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) has teamed up with the American Addictions Center (AAC) to offer you and your family a free and confidential helpline. You can call 1-888-731-FIRE 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. The person that answers the phone knows what you are going through, has been there, and has the resources to help you. You can also access more help, training, and resources for not only you but your entire department by visiting http://www.nvfc.org/.
There are a lot of you out there. Each and every one of you deserves to be taken care of just as you take care of your friends, your neighbors, members of your community, and complete strangers.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a new problem. PTSD is an issue that has existed since the dawn of firefighting and other traumatic events. The psychological impacts just haven’t been fully considered until recently. It seems; however, there is a stronger focus on career firefighters while less of an open and verbal concern for volunteers.
You answer the call to help others at a moment’s notice, and many of you may believe that since you are there to help others, you can’t reach out for help yourself. You don’t have to be a statistic; you can get the help you need. Talk to someone, talk to anyone, your life is just as valuable as the person you are rescuing when the alarm goes off.
PTSD is real, and it needs everyone’s attention.
Tomorrow morning, January 5th 2016, a born and raised Texan Paramedic will retire from EMS. Becoming a part-time or speciality paramedic might be in his future, but for now, he will be retired.
This guy has worked his shift and covered other shifts. He took the ambulmace home and parked it in his driveway as that was the way it was done back then. He awoke in the middle of the night, multiple times a night, to respond to 911 calls. He’s laid in ditches with your family members. He’s laid in the summer heated streets on his belly to comfort a child hit by a car. He’s been there when a child was rescued from a storm drain. He’s helped your family member after they’ve had a seizure. He has driven millions of miles in the front seat of an ambulance. He’s crawled into ditches after a tornado to rescue men covered by debris. He’s hugged family members of victims that didn’t survive. He’s carried and “worked” kids that he knew didn’t stand a chance. It’s impossible to count how many people he has touched in his career. A career that spanned for 37 years.
He has created an educational program from scratch as an advanced coordinator and instructor. He taught many EMT-Basic, Intermediate, and Paramedic classes in his years.
Has he done anything that thousands and thousands of other paramedics, emts and firemen do day-in and day-out around the world? No.
He is a Paramedic. A street medic. In my eyes, he is the best Paramedic I have ever seen work the field, (no discredit at all to any of the other EMTs and Paramedics I’ve worked with). You see…this guy I’m talking about is my dad. He’s 63 years old, and he began a career of helping people in 1979.
Tomorrow he will retire. He will hang up his stethoscope (that he never wore because he believes that everything he needs is in the ambulance and doesn’t need it around his neck haha).
Good luck dad. The service of EMS needs more guys that can do this job and see these things for 30+ years.
P.s. I’m proud of you pops.
Do the inherited traits of those with blue eyes predispose them to a life of serving the public and taking risks? Jeez, what a question right?
7000 years ago, give or take, a genetic mutation caused humans to have blue eyes for the first time. ALL people with blue eyes share one common ancestor and it might be this one guy they dug up in Spain back in 2006. He has the dark-skinned genes of an African and traits of a Scandinavian to include the blue-eyed mutation.
Prior to ‘Ole Blue Eyes”, everyone on earth had brown colored eyes. Anything other than brown was a string of that one mutation. Blue is one of the more difficult eye colors to create because a certain set of genetic circumstances have to exist in order for the mutation to take effect.
Without digging too far into genetic tendencies, brown colored eyes is considered a dominate trait, while blue color eyes is considered a recessive trait. The chances of having a child with brown eyes is far greater than having one with blue eyes. Hazel and Green form a partial mutated cocktail. Basically, both parents must possess the mutation in the DNA in order to pull it off.
What does this have to do with Firefighting?
Before we dive into the statistics I’d like to give you some personal observations from my career that led to this article. With about 18 years on the job I’ve worked in a handful of different fire departments, both in the U.S. and internationally. What I’ve come to notice is that everywhere I’ve worked, the majority of my shift had blue eyes. At first it seemed purely coincidental, but it kept happening. As a blue-eyed firefighter myself I couldn’t help but think there was something too this.
Last month we launched a survey which polled our followers. Some of the questions were merely, gee-whiz-bang out of curiosity and also…sometimes we wonder who’s out there and who our followers actually are. I slipped-in the eye color question just to see if, by chance, my suspicions were correct. You can still help us by taking the super short survey here.
Please keep in mind that relating eye color to personality traits or even career selection tendencies could be nothing more than possible malarkey and/or junk-science at best.
That said, the polling data is certainly telling. It should also be realized there is a racial part of this that we won’t even explore given the numbers. This topic has nothing to do with which race of human is predisposed to what eye color or what region people are from. We’re going to assume for the sake of science that human life began in Africa, evolved and mutated. This article only highlights eye color while recognizing that it’s mainly Caucasians that would possess blue eyes. In similar fashion and oddly enough our poll takers appear to be majority Caucasian.
According to the New York Times, 1 in 6 Americans will have blue eyes. Which means that out of 318.9 million people comprising the United States population, roughly 53.1 million have blue eyes or 19.1%. The exact number isn’t clear but there are searchable sources from between 17-19% of the population possessing blue eyes.
The Station Pride follower survey revealed that 45% of firefighters polled had blue eyes.
45% reflects more than twice the national likelihood of having blue eyes. How and why do we have so many blue-eyed firefighters?
What’s happening here?
Glad you asked… Interestingly enough there has been some research into this topic conducted by three different universities. One notable study by scientists at the Orebro University in Sweden suggest that iris color can be linked to personality traits. (Read here)
It’s been discovered that people with blue eyes exhibit with these common traits, more or less.
Blue eyed people tend to have great inner and physical strength, though it’s sometimes a struggle for people to see it. Women with blue eyes were found to tolerate the pain of child-birth better. You’re also able to handle some forms of anxiety and depression better. You’re ambitious, sharp, and inquisitive. In the professional world, not much stands in your way. (here)
Could it be that the first Blue eyed person was a public servant?
What do you think? Is there a connection?