Go to a fire every day. Every damn day.
Do I work for the busiest company in the busiest department? Surely not.
But I go to fires every single day.
Mentally, physically, or emotionally; I go to fires every day. Allow me to explain.
This starts with a can-do and will-do attitude; a discipline that you are a firefighter. A way of life. That means acting accordingly on your 5 day break to the last hour of your 72 hour shift. You gave up your right to be out-of-shape, sedentary, and maladjusted for the demands of our job when you raised your right hand and swore the oath.
- Mentally- Mentally going to fires starts with the mindset before you arrive to work. It begins with how you prepare the day before you come to work and your mindset when you arrive at work. It starts with the mentality that you will go to a fire when you get to work. Being mentally clear, sharp, and focused allows for the mental battle on the fire ground to come with ease. Keeping a constant state of readiness, hydration, and proper fuel in the body all sets up our mental state for its prime; what we swore they would get and what they deserve. A healthy respect and a hunger for the job is a must. Watch fire p*rn online and practice strategies/ tactics, and discuss these with your crew. Give size-ups out loud, talk to yourself driving home giving size ups or doing your own PIA on every call. Take a class. Finish your degree. Mentally, have your head in the game. I’ll take the guy who brings a tool bag to work any day over the slug who brings his Xbox to work.
- Physically- Hands-on-training in full PPE, SCBA drills, stretching lines, ladder throws; realistic, time constrained, high-stress skills that will build invaluable muscle memory, strain your body similar to the fire ground and get you comfortable with being uncomfortable. Put your gear on, do fire ground tasks, and use stress inoculation. The crew integrity built (mentally/ emotionally) during physical exercise cannot be understated. On your days off, functional firefighter fitness programs are a must. Kettlebell exercises, CrossFit, HIIT, Insanity, P90X, certain Les Mills programs, and other structured exercise programs set you up for being well balanced in strength and cardiovascular health. There has been a vast improvement in the availability of firefighter fitness apps, programs, and diet information lately so the excuses have eroded away. Lastly, don’t pray over a plate stacked full of s*** and ask for a blessing for the nourishment of your body. Don’t have the audacity to be that guy. Eat healthy. Don’t eat like its your last meal because if you eat enough of those in this job, it just might be. Prepare yourself for breathing equipment schools, do mock combat challenges at work, spend time on the FE door, searching, and dragging/ packaging victims or firefighters. This is a physical job. Despite what you may think of yourself, the public and your crew is judging you. How dare you be unfit for duty and wearing the uniform that men and women have died wearing?
- Emotionally- Read LODD reports. Research fires. Learn what went right. Listen to Mayday and LODD radio traffic. Place yourself there. Understand what went wrong. Give a f*ck. Participate in the 9/11 Stair Climbs. Go to memorial services. Go to firefighter funerals. Go visit a retiree. Take care of yourself after a bad call and watch over your brothers and sisters. If you notice someone or yourself has a stress injury, reach out to the appropriate people. Cancer, PTSD, home life, all of the above- take care of yourself and take care of your crew. Use stress inoculation to emotionally train yourself for this job and to build an emotional reserve and improve your emotional intelligence. Clear your head at work and keep an emotional attachment to the mission. Spend time with your crew off-duty; making an emotional investment in them and their families.
A strong combination of mental health, physical fitness, and emotional intelligence will carry you a long way in this job. Moderation isn’t in my vocabulary; immerse yourself in the job.
Do something every day. Go to a fire every day.