What is resiliency?
One of the most important aspects of a firefighter’s life and mental health is resiliency. Resilience is often defined as one’s ability to bounce back from setbacks and to properly adapt to stressful situations. Resiliency is so important to us all because no one is immune to stress whether it’s daily irritants or major life-altering events.
Building resilience takes time. In order to help improve resiliency make sure to get enough sleep, exercise, and practice on thought awareness. Being more optimistic and seeing the glass half full in the long run will help change the way you think about negative or stressful events. If we improve the health and happiness in our individuals and workforce as a whole, then we will produce a higher performance overall.
Building resiliency is important for the following reasons:
- It protects against heart disease (the #1 killer of firefighters!)
- Potentially increase life expectancy by up to a decade
- Inoculates against daily hassles and life altering events
- Improves job satisfaction and productivity
- Boosts your immune response
- You’re at lower risk for injuries and pain, including headaches
- Lowers risk of alcohol and dependency
Four pillars of resilience:
- Mental toughness
- Social connectivity
- Mind body “muscle memory”
- sparking positive emotions
Tactical breathing is used to gain control over physical and psychological responses to stress. Through practice one can gain control over heart rate, oxygen intake and emotions to increase concentration in various situation. Please see the link below for more information.
Who do I want to be? A question we have all asked ourselves at one point in our lives. At a very young age, I focused on playing baseball and being a firefighter like my dad. I loved baseball with a passion and grew up watching the New York Yankees with my dad as a little kid. I grew up wanting the best of both worlds, being able to play baseball for the Yankees and be a firefighter for the FDNY at the same time. I soon realized as I got older that I couldn’t have the best of both worlds. I had to come to a point in my life where I had to choose what I wanted to do with my life. At 18 years old and about to graduate high school, it’s not easy figuring out what you want to do. I was fortunate enough to have amazing parents who raised me right and taught me how to be a man of God.
I spent my whole life going to church every Sunday and even going to youth group every Wednesday night. I know in the fire service religion is a touchy subject and can cause controversy among a lot of the guys and gals at the station. Everyone has their opinion in life, and that’s what makes the power of decision-making so great, we get to choose what we want to believe in and do with our lives. Many people believe there is a God, and many people don’t. I believe there is a God, and I believe he sent his son Jesus Christ on this earth to die on the cross for our sins so that we may be forgiven. I also believe God has a plan for each of our lives and opens doors of opportunity for us each and every day. It’s up to me to have faith and trust in Him to guide me through my journey in life.
When I graduated high school, I had the choice of going to college and playing baseball, or start my career in the fire service and follow in the footsteps of my father. It wasn’t an easy choice for me; I spent many days praying and asking God what He would want me to do. That summer, I spent a lot of my time doing ride time with my father as an Explorer. One of the last fires I ran with my dad that summer was a fully involved office building that was next an abandoned warehouse. Even though it was a “surround and drown” type scenario, I knew from that moment that this is what I had a love for in my life. It’s like God set a fire in my heart, a burning passion to serve and help others in my community. From that moment on, I made it a commitment to strive and be the best firefighter/paramedic God would want me to be.
Fast forward four years later and I’m now a Firefighter/Paramedic with a great fire department, went to college to get my Associates Degree and now I’m working on earning my Bachelor’s Degree. God has provided for me in my life, and I will always be grateful for the many opportunities He has given me. At 22 years old, I am still very young and have a lot to learn and experience. There came a low point in my life, where I was angry and frustrated with how my life was turning out and I stopped putting my faith and trust in God. I started questioning myself and even wondered if this career was right for me, or if this was even the path God wanted me to go down. I lost all hope and at one point gave up. Then all of sudden God always finds a way to to give you reassurance and to tell you that He is with you and has never left you. Through friends, family, church and my amazing girlfriend, I was able to see and realize how great God is and how He had made me stronger. He restored my hope and confidence and gave me life again. I felt like a new man, and I felt a new fire restored in my heart.
Being 22 and still young, I don’t have a lot of advice or experience to give. If there’s one piece of advice I have, it’s don’t give up finding what your calling is in life. I don’t know exactly what God has planned for the rest of my future, but I do know He wants me to be the best firefighter/paramedic that I can be. He would want me to show His love to others in their time of need. For those that are still unsure what the future holds for their lives, don’t give up on searching for an answer. Even if you believe or don’t believe in God, there is a plan for your life. Someone is looking after you all the time. He loves you and cares about you, even when it seems like the rest of world is crumbling around you. He will show you the plans for your life, and He will lead you down the path that will bring joy and great success for your life.
Have you heard of the Mind-Body Connection?
It is a term used to describe the interconnectedness between our emotions and our physical health.
When you are emotionally stressed or anxious, especially for a prolonged period of time, it often has a negative impact on your health. Numerous research studies have shown that stress can cause and/or worsen physical conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Back pain “physical injury, illness, or pain can impact your mood”
- Sleep problems (e.g. insomnia)
- Sexual difficulties
- Gastro-intestinal problems
- A weakened immune system
Likewise, you may have experienced first hand how a physical injury, illness, or pain can impact your mood. If our bodies are “sick”, we worry about a number of things including:
- How long it will take to get better?
- Will I have to go on light duty?
- Will I have to stop working out or limit my physical activity?
- Will I be a burden to those around me?
The Good News
The good news is that there are several things we can do to improve our mental and physical health when it comes to these matters. Relaxation techniques always help.
First, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious you can contact FireStrong.org Crisis Support Line 1-844-525-FIRE (3473).
If you want to hear more about how can work for you, follow this link to a podcast that explains the Mind-Body connection, and some strategies to calm your body and mind to prevent or eliminate physical symptoms. Autonomic Podcast
Next, the link below is to the American Psychological Association website that cites some fascinating research about the Mind-Body Connection. For instance, did you know:
- Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. (“The Stress Solution: An Active Plan to Manage the Stress in Your Life,” Lyle H. Miller, Ph.D. and Alma Dell Smith, Ph.D.)
- People with high levels of anxiety can have between two to seven times the risk of heart disease. (“Emotional Longevity: What Really Determines How Long You Live,” Norman B. Anderson and Elizabeth P. Anderson, 2003)
- Two-thirds of all office visits to family physicians are due to stress-related symptoms (American Academy of Family Physicians)
Learn more about this research at http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mind-body.aspx
- Stay Strong – Be smart about your body and your mind!
- Chances are high that this will directly affect you or a loved one during your lifetime !
As children, we are taught to think for ourselves. We are taught subject matter, quietly, in a classroom setting. We do our homework alone before we can go hang out with our friends. And then, we are tested in a silent atmosphere. I would have never thought I would be involved in a career that would have me thinking, learning, teaching, and doing things as a group, team, or platoon. This career is unique, and it takes a special person to accept the calling.
So what are some important job functions we need to do as a team?
In the academy, I was told the only two things we do as an individual in this career is put on our bunkers, and use the restroom. Quite frankly, I’ve been in situations where both of these have been falsified. But only because I’m in the company of my brothers. Only because they are family. And as family, we need to watch each others back’s. We need to warn each other of the dangers, and the situations we are getting ourselves into. And as teams, we need to work together.
Many group topics come to mind, but one of the most overlooked is the planning stages of incidents prior to us ever receiving the call. Pre-planning our attacks as a company, should be done before the alarm ever sounds. We are looking for the dangers we’d have while in a non-emergent setting so as not to be surprised by them on the fireground. This way, they are already known when the fire comes in at 3:30 in the morning and the Grim Reaper is staring us in the face when we walk in the front door. Pre-plans are especially more important since the construction boom of the early 2000’s and lightweight frame is now becoming the norm, building after building. But just because the construction is becoming the same, are the hazards the same? Are the hazards the same today as they were back in the 80’s and 90’s, when some of these buildings were last inspected and walked thru by the 1st due company? Are the firemen that were involved back then still in your department today? Probably not…but that would be only one of many reasons why we should be walking through these buildings and knowing what’s inside prior to our initial dispatch. Fire inspections, building codes, and fire suppression/notification devices just fix the tip of the iceberg. Next time you go to an automatic fire alarm, or medical run in an unfamiliar building, give the maintenance guy a shout. Ask him to take the “nickel tour”. If not, it’s their right, but if you can, it could be the difference between yours or your crew-members’ life. Get out there, and go get it!
– The “Irons”
As much as we like to think of ourselves as unbreakable, we break, and when we do it’s usually hard and fast. If this feeling of being in crisis comes we may not feel comfortable to reach out for support. It’s embedded in our DNA that we are firefighters and we are supposed to fix problems.
Our exposures to high stress calls and events have given us the ability to overcome our feelings and work through them. Over time we store up our issues until they may overflow into other parts of our life. Sure, we may use dark humor or sarcastic remarks to move past our own feelings and continue to do our jobs but what happens when the floor falls out from under us, and we or a friend needs help.
If we finally do decide to accept help we will need somebody we can trust. We will need to know what the help will look like. So if you or somebody you know is in crisis and you decide to ACCESS RESOURCES to get help. What can you expect to happen next?
‘What will a crisis intervention look like?’
Each program is different, but all professional licensed counselors adhere to regulations when it comes to crisis intervention. Crisis Intervention should not be confused with traditional Therapy or Counseling. Crisis Intervention is used in acute situations to assist those who are in urgent need of help.
- Their behavior constitutes a danger of inflicting serious physical harm upon oneself, including attempted suicide or the serious threat thereof, or if the threat is expected that it will be carried out.
- There is potential that the continued behavior can reasonably be expected to result in serious physical harm to others.
Behavior in which a person is likely to come to serious physical harm or serious illness because he/she is unable to provide for his basic physical needs.
- They are showing signs that they are suffering severe and abnormal mental, and emotional issues and that these issues are significantly impairing judgment, reason, behavior or capacity to recognize part of reality.
These four guidelines are reasons for a Crisis Intervention. It is after intervention and when the person is back to more stable that they would benefit from therapy or Counseling in hopes of creating a new healthy baseline.
A Crisis Specialist will ask a series of questions to identify relevant safety issues, and to assess if the person meets the criteria above. Some of these questions may seem intrusive when asked, but regulations dictate that the level of safety is assessed. Here are some sample questions to expect:
Safety Assessment Questions
- Have you had any thoughts or actions, now or in the past, to do anything to hurt yourself?
- Are you concerned about your ability to maintain your own safety?
- Is anyone else concerned about your ability to maintain your safety?
- What, exactly, are any thoughts you have had or are having to hurt yourself?
- Do you have a plan on what you would actually do to hurt yourself?
- Have you ever acted on these thoughts? What did you do?
- Regarding any past actions to hurt yourself, was your intention to hurt yourself, die, let someone know how bad things are?
- What were you trying to get away from or are you trying to get away from, by doing something to hurt yourself?
- How are you hoping hurting yourself/killing yourself will solve your problems?
- Do you have the means to hurt yourself? Do you have access to weapons or drugs?
- Has anyone in your family ever hurt themselves/committed suicide?
- What level of support do you have in your life?
- Are you willing to make a no-harm contract with me?
- Define the Problem. Explore and define the problem from the patient’s point of view. Use active listening, including open-ended questions. Attend to both verbal and nonverbal communications.
- Ensure Personal Safety. Assess lethality, criticality, immobility and seriousness of threat to patient’s physical, emotional and psychological safety. Assess internal impact as well as environmental situation.
- Provide Support. Communicate (by words, voice, and body language) a caring, positive, non-possessive, nonjudgmental, acceptant, personal involvement with the one in crisis and the family.
- Examine Alternatives. Assist in brainstorming choices available now. Search for immediate supports. These supports might include hospitalization or rehabilitation facility
- Plan. Develop a plan with your patient which: provides something concrete and positive for the patient to do now with definite action steps which the patient can own and comprehend.
- Ask the patient to verbally summarize the plan and commitment.
- Demonstrate your part of the commitment if you collaborate.
- Follow up on the patient’s performance or in obtaining assistance.
Click Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage (SAFE-T) to receive a FREE digital copy of suicide assessment guidelines put out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
For Help or more information on Crisis Intervention please visit FireStrong.org.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD can result from personally experienced traumas (e.g., rape, war, natural disasters, abuse, serious accidents, and captivity) or from the witnessing or learning of a violent or tragic event.
- While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions.
- People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event.
- PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.
Although the symptoms for individuals with PTSD can vary considerably, they generally fall into three categories:
– Individuals with PTSD often experience recurrent and intrusive recollections of and/or nightmares about the stressful event. Some may experience flashbacks, hallucinations, or other vivid feelings of the event happening again. Others experience great psychological or physiological distress when certain things (objects, situations, etc.) remind them of the event.
– Many with PTSD will persistently avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event. This can result in avoiding everything from thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the incident to activities, places, or people that cause them to recall the event. In others there may be a general lack of responsiveness signaled by an inability to recall aspects of the trauma, a decreased interest in formerly important activities, a feeling of detachment from others, a limited range of emotion, and/or feelings of hopelessness about the future.
– Symptoms in this area may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, becoming very alert or watchful, and/or jumpiness or being easily startled.
Risk Factors for Firefighters
A few studies have also looked at what factors might put firefighters at greater risk for the development of PTSD. A number of risk factors for PTSD among firefighters have been identified. These include:
- Being previously in treatment for another disorder.
- Starting work as a firefighter at a younger age.
- Being unmarried
- Holding a supervisory rank in the fire service.
- Proximity to death during a traumatic event.
- Experiencing feelings of fear and horror during a traumatic event.
- Experiencing another stressful event (for example, loss of a loved one) after a traumatic event.
- Holding negative beliefs about oneself (for example, feeling as though you are inadequate or weak).
- Feeling as though you have little control over your life.
Protective Factors for Firefighters
- Even though firefighters might be at high risk for stress as a result of their jobs, it is important to point out that most firefighters will not develop PTSD. In fact, several factors have been identified that may reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD among firefighters after the experience of multiple traumatic events.
- One of the most important protective factors found was having social support available either at home or through work.
- In addition, it has also been found that having effective coping strategies available may lessen the impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.
- This is not surprising in that, among people in general, the availability of social support and effective coping strategies have consistently been found to reduce the risk for developing PTSD following a traumatic event.
For Information on Treatment Please visit FireStrong.org
To learn what Fire Strong is all about check out their introduction here
Fitness. Diet. Mental Wellness.
Firefighter health and wellness is one of those topics that immediately turns off most readers. It’s not a fun topic to read about and for most people its hard to acknowledge our weaknesses. Likewise, trying to get firefighters to admit their weaknesses is nearly impossible.
Responding to car accidents, trauma victims, fires, destruction, disasters, untimely and timely deaths, blood, screaming, dire situations, rescues, shootings, stabbings, domestic, violence, toxic chemical spills… we handle it all. Each call takes a little piece of us without us even realizing it.
The average citizen would take the action of breaking a window as being extreme or performing CPR for the layperson would be a life changing experience, where for us, it’s all part of daily life on the job. There is a necessary tendency where we have to remove the emotion of the situation in order to mitigate it. Repeating that action over a career has the ability to produce adverse mental health consequences. Sometimes I think we’re just here to bare witness to the worst humanity has to offer and somehow deal with it.
Mental illness in firefighters should be an expectation instead of a rare or embarrassing occurrence. Granted we are a unique breed of people where we can accept the tragedies of the days events and go back to normal life, however, when coupled with the mental challenges of running calls, add in a careers worth of sleep deprivation, poor diet, inadequate exercise, family stress, anxiety leading to depression…and you get the picture. Each one, individually, can deliver an entire host of problems. Together it’s almost a guaranteed recipe for struggle.
As firefighters, we tend to mask , hide, or deny there is anything wrong with us. Some of us are affected more than others, while few, seemingly, aren’t affected at all. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that we have souls, a heart, and a conscience. At times in our life we could all use a guide map or directions.
Station Pride is taking the initiative to promote firefighter health and wellness. A cornerstone of taking pride in the fire service is to take pride in ourselves and each other. We all need to remove the stigma of mental health and obesity, address suicide prevention, PTSD support, and addiction assistance, while promoting positive mental health, physical fitness, and practical healthy eating.
Our initiative involves pulling together existing and amazing resources for firefighters to seek guidance or receive the assistance they may need. We will post regular wellness articles and content provided by FireStrong.org, Firefightersweightloss.com, and Tongs and Turnouts.
Please stay tuned and help Station Pride end the stigma of mental health while assisting brothers and sisters with weight-loss and diet change by making these topics a part of everyday firehouse conversation. It’s time we take the lead on changing the culture of our profession. It’s past time
Firestrong.org is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.
Most who participate in the profession start off fit and at least close to reasonable weight standards. Unfortunately, many gain weight and find it difficult or impossible to lose weight. They struggle to maintain enough fitness to pass whatever testing may be required for continued service. The emphasis for many is to “protect their right” to continue in the service.
Many give up hope that they can lose weight and place themselves at great risk because they are over weight or obese. Here at “FireFightersWeightLoss.com” we understand and have experienced the problem.
Tongs and Turnouts is an Facebook page operated by a firefighter/brother in Australia. They provide amazing meal ideas for the fire station. Give them a follow and try to incorporate some of their practical and healthy meals with your shift. Every fireman loves a good feed! This page is to help share ‘Firies’ love of good food, and recipes for/from station cook ups.