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January 4, 2018
The firefighting profession is both rewarding and grueling. PTSD, depression and substance abuse are just a few of the potential health risks associated with the challenges of the job. The good news is, help is available, and it can start with you. If you know a fire fighter dealing with any of these issues, there are ways you can lift them up:
The power of words is often underestimated. Sometimes simply giving someone a word of encouragement can make a world of difference in their life. Did your brother or sister have a difficult call? Is she struggling with something that happened on the job last week? Is he beating himself up over a certain outcome, even though it was completely out of his control? Encourage your fellow fire fighter by reminding them of the positive impact they make in the community, and of all the lives, homes and buildings they have and will save. By offering a new perspective, you can help offset overly critical or negative self-talk that your brother or sister may experience after a difficult call.
Not everyone deals with stress or other negative emotions the same way. Some people lash out, while others internalize it and shut everyone out. Some might bottle it up and pretend that everything is fine. It may not be easy to determine how your fellow fire fighter is truly feeling. If you’re concerned about a brother or sister, make an effort to be a friend. Ask how they’re doing and if they want to hang out after work. Let them know that you’re there for them if they need a listening ear or emotional support.
Regardless of how bad a particular shift is, there’s always something that can be celebrated. Maybe it’s a promotion or another positive outcome. Maybe someone was at the right place at the right time. Or maybe the reason to celebrate has nothing to do with work at all. If you want to lift your colleagues’ spirits while encouraging some camaraderie, plan a fun event every month with co-workers. Extend the invitation to their families, too. This can involve a simple restaurant dinner or backyard barbecue. Just focus on fellowship, feasting and fun.
Maybe you’re not good with words, but there are still ways to connect with your brother or sister. One is to treat them to dinner or lunch, or take them to a ball game or other sporting event. If they’re not a sports fan and more into art and music, invite them to a concert, comedy show or a performance art show. Without establishing a friendship or rapport first, being a source of emotional support to your crew member in crisis will be a challenge later.
If you know an IAFF member struggling with substance abuse, a mental health disorder, or both, call the IAFF Center of Excellence to learn more about the available treatment options. The Center is staffed with professionals who understand the struggles of first responders and are happy to provide assistance.