We have focused our attention on preparing the firefighter for battle, but this week's post will provide some insight and support for the firefighter and his/her family. You see most fire administrations are buried, buried in the politics, the management of budgetary concerns and operational responses. Leadership is about leading people, preparation for the mission, and one aspect that is often overlooked is firefighter mental health. The biggest challenge faced by leadership, whether you are a company officer or the fire chief is dealing with the interpersonal dynamics of personnel. Management of the emergency scene is the easy part. You have an objective and life safety wins. Rescue the victims, mitigate the hazards and you have done your job... But have you? Dealing with the day to day grind is not glamorous. Often left untouched because it is messy or unpleasant to deal with. The critical factor is knowing how to deal with it professionally and with the education to assure it is done right without liability. We here at FETC Services offer many leadership classes. Some that deal with interpersonal dynamics that includes identifying the leading cause of negativity and avenues to deal with it.
Now if your organization is squared away you probably said, yeah we already do most of that. Getting back to our original intent of this post, some "Really - Really" squared away organizations are providing their firefighters "primary support team" with education as well. Remember behind every good man or woman is a strong spouse or significant other. They are the "behind the scenes" support network we are talking about. Preparing them for what this profession will unfortunately expose their firefighter and potentially their family to is critical. Without that prep, their relationships will certainly suffer. And when that time comes... the organization will have to deal with the fallout at the firehouse. You see going back to organizational behavior, what happens in a member's personal life greatly affects their professional performance. So fire departments can choose to be proactive and implement what we are preaching here or you can remain reactive which continues to support the statistics.
Now there is a reason why the fire service divorce rate is three times greater than the general population! Some studies show that to be upwards of 70% for the fire service. The challenges are many: our rotating schedule, swaps, mandatory OT, long periods of being away from the family which causes us to miss important dates, gatherings and family time. It is noted that depression and firefighter suicide is also on the rise in the industry. So understanding that your hero will be exposed to dangerous events, trauma, chronic and acute stress for which drives many different types of emotional reactions like anxiety, irritability, restlessness, overexcitability, sadness, moodiness, numbness, detachment, lack of communication, guilt or even self pity or blame. Identification is key before that leads to medical conditions like headaches, nausea, easily startled or set off, awakening at a pin drop or turning on a light in the middle of the night can trigger a full blown emergency response even while off duty. The biggest contributing factor is the inability for your firefighter to sleep well, shift work or on-call responses yield poor quality sleep (often interrupted) and/or sleep deprivation. Certain schedules have proven to yield poor sleep patterns of which carry over even when off duty. All of which can cause other more serious medical conditions over time. Not to mention the cause and affect on our relationships with the one's we love like our spouses, family and/or friends. I am sure I have struck a cord with many readers of this post. Some may be firefighters and their significant others. There are a few support networks for these issues and I will include some of the links below. My point is this; really great leadership takes care of their personnel AND their families. Adding an educational component to a firefighter's orientation period; that includes his or her family is just one way to support the brother and sisterhood. "Caring Costs Nothing... but pays huge dividends in the organizational behavior" - FETC Services.
Anne Gagliano authored a great piece called, "What every firefighter's spouse should know". I have met the Gagliano's at FDIC, they offer some great information on this topic. (you may need to register with Fire Engineering to read but it is absolutely FREE)
My wonderful wife Melanie, who regularly accompanies me at firefighter training conferences around the country, has introduced me to Lori Mercer. Lori started Firefighter Wife and Sisterhood support network. Some really great stuff available over there as well.
Take care and stay safe brothers and sisters... Looking forward to FDIC International
Billy Greenwood; FETC Services www.fetcservices.com