By Bruce Lacillade
Jan. 27, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - In recent blogs I introduced the reality of post-traumatic and cumulative stress, introduced a few symptoms and advised that PTSD is now beginning to be recognized as a work-related injury.
Today, I address the need for you to accept that you may be troubled by some of the calls to which you have responded. After all, behind all your training and underneath your bunker gear, you are human.
Some calls are silly and some are deadly serious. I remember responding to a “pedestrian-struck” call only to discover the pedestrian was never struck by a vehicle but that the he was out for a walk, got tired, and laid down on the grass next to the street for a rest!
However, I also remember responding to a house fire that turned out to also be a suicide; I discovered the body with the shotgun beside it while advancing a hoseline into the kitchen. These examples show two extremes of a first responder’s average shift. One never knows what the next call will be, but you do know that you will respond and whether silly or serious, it will be most likely outside what civilians consider normal.
Although as first responders you are well trained and well equipped (not to mention good looking!), you can’t control everything; some things you just can’t fix. This can cause a certain amount of anxiety and maybe even a sense of being powerless, which you may also not be able to control at first. However, you do have the power to turn this perceived weakness into strength.
You may have distressing memories, and maybe even bad dreams; you may be irritable or frustrated. These could be signs of work-related stress. Please realize that you can overcome these. First, you must recognize and accept that something is bothering you. Next, reflect on what that something is, and then share your concerns with someone you trust; this will go a long way toward relieving the stress these distressing memories can cause. Don’t hold in your distressing memories and feelings. If you don’t vent, these distressing memories will cause a backdraft in your head. This is the point at which emotional intelligence comes into play. Beyond technical skills and competence, first responders also need a certain amount of emotional intelligence, which brings with it self-awareness, adaptability and self-control. All responders need to be aware of their feelings, and develop the ability to correctly perceive the feelings of others, and act effectively on these perceptions.
We have come to a new year, which for me brings new hope for improvement. Hope is a confident expectation that a desire will be fulfilled.
Don’t make silly or grandiose resolutions that you know you won’t keep but make real-life changes. I realize I have said this before but we need to eat well (watch the caffeine and alcohol), exercise, get plenty of rest, breathe, and, if it suits you, get in touch with your spiritual side.
It doesn’t matter if you have stumbled and fallen many times before, you can still get up and move forward just as surely as if you’ve never fallen.
Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org