Finding Resilience in Turbulent Times

Author: IAFF Staff

June 15, 2020

As the battle against COVID-19 persists, the struggle to balance the reopening of communities with our efforts to remain vigilant against this pandemic continues. Since the outbreak, life on and off the job has fundamentally changed for fire and EMS personnel throughout the United States and Canada. In recent weeks, peaceful civil rights protests followed by community unrest have only added to the acute stress that members face on the job.

While communities look towards the future, many concerns are still front and center for fire and EMS personnel:  

  • Call Volumes: Personnel in harder-hit communities are at risk for exhaustion and burnout.
  • Misinformation: Despite 24/7 access to news, finding accurate and trustworthy information is still a challenge. Misinformation at the local or national level can make it harder for fire and EMS personnel to do their job, especially during a global pandemic.
  • Contamination Fears: The risk of contaminating family members is a constant fear for every fire fighter and EMS provider. Families with a parent under quarantine experience major disruption in their daily routine, childcare and housing.
  • Economic Concerns: The recession projected by some economists will hit certain communities harder than others. Cutbacks, pay freezes and furloughs are a legitimate concern for many.
  • Changing Response Protocols: In the spring of 2020, the overwhelming strain on the healthcare system led to unprecedented changes in emergency response protocol in some cities. Such changes may have unintended emotional consequences for fire and EMS personnel who took an oath to save lives.
  • PPE and Testing Shortages: While PPE supply has improved in some cities, access to rapid testing with specificity remains a challenge for every department and community.
  • Homelife Stress: Fire and EMS personnel with a spouse or children at home may have additional stressors to face as they attempt to keep children occupied, adjust to their spouse’s telework schedule and spend more time together.

What Does It Mean to Be Resilient?

We each have our own way of responding to life’s challenges. Resilience is often thought of as the ability to bounce back from life’s adversities or to withstand loss or change. Given the high rate of occupational trauma, the inherent stress of the job and the toll on family life, we know that fire and EMS personnel are an incredibly resilient population.

However, during a pandemic even the most seasoned crew members may begin to crumble under stress, while others seem to thrive. Decades of research have identified several key protective factors that predict human resilience (Southwick and Charney, 2018).

  1. Choose to maintain an optimistic outlook
  2. Face fear, rather than avoid it
  3. Seek and accept social support
  4. Create meaning and opportunity from adversity
  5. Prioritize physical fitness and strength

Fire fighter uniforms hanging inside a fire station

The IAFF Is Here for You

Whatever your approach is to self-care, know that you are not alone. You are connected to a brotherhood and sisterhood that care deeply for your emotional and physical health.

Training

Now more than ever, understanding behavioral health issues that impact fire service personnel is necessary. While in-person behavioral health trainings are suspended through 2020 due to COVID-19, it’s never too early for your department to start planning for 2021:

COVID-19 Resources

Don’t forget to visit the IAFF COVID-19 Toolkit for updated PPE guidelines, decontamination protocol and important information for IAFF members during the COVID-19 crisis. Check out the Behavioral Health Resources tab to access:

  • Emerging COVID-19 behavioral health issues for fire service personnel
  • IAFF online recovery meetings for members in recovery from addiction
  • Free telemental health services for U.S. fire/EMS personnel
  • IAFF Center of Excellence in Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery

Behavioral Health Treatment

The IAFF Center of Excellence is a residential behavioral health treatment center for IAFF members struggling with addiction, PTSD and other co-occurring mental health problems. The Center remains open to serve IAFF members while continuously adapting patient screening, contact precautions and isolation protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lauren Kosc, MA, LCPC, is a behavioral health specialist, a licensed mental health clinician and a blog writer for the International Association of Fire Fighters.

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