By Bruce Lacillade
May 19, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - It is said that one in five Canadians experience addiction or mental-health issues. If you are struggling with work-related stress, you are not alone.
May 4-10 was mental health week in Canada. This week was set aside by the Canadian Mental Health Association to raise public awareness of mental health and to help people get past stigmas around mental-health issues. It is important to understand that good mental health isn’t about avoiding issues or trying to live the perfect life; it is about realizing your potential, coping with your stressors, and making a positive contribution to your community.
Being a first responder can be stressful, but you don’t need me to tell you that. What you may need to hear is that despite the stressors associated with the job, you can still thrive. You don’t need to suck it up. You can and should talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
Some fire-service leaders are beginning to speak of the need to generate a template of what being a firefighter means today and what it may become in the future. They indicate, and I agree, that to focus solely on the task level can create stagnation in our personal growth as human beings. While it is vital we know how to hit a hydrant and advance a hoseline – these skills should be second nature to us – there is more to the career than just hands-on tasks.
For 25 years I lived and breathed the fire service. I studied hard and I trained hard in firefighting tactics, first aid, high-level rescue, auto extraction, and so on. However, we never had any training or information given to us on how to handle the stressors of the job. It just wasn’t done back then.
I was a dedicated firefighter, as I’m sure all of you are. I was, and still am, proud of the Burlington Fire Department on which I served. We have good reason to be proud of the fire service in Canada. It is important that we appreciate how many first responders care deeply about what they do. Yet we seem to miss what we can become. We focus on the task while ignoring personal development. As men and women we are more than what we do for work. Fire fighting is a vocation, a calling, and to be the best we can be we also need to develop our character.
We show sensitivity and kindness to those we encounter at calls; maybe it’s time we do the same with each other. Sensitivity is kindness, concern and awareness of others needs and feelings. Sensitivity is a beautiful virtue that enables us to reach out to others and invite those who may feel alone to become part of our group. Now, I am not suggesting that we sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, but we do need to give each other a break when it comes to work-related stress issues. Although fighting fires and saving lives is the best job in the world, it is not an easy job.
There is a need to develop our characters as humble and courageous public servants; to develop resiliency without hardness of heart. We should seek to become exemplary human beings who just happen to be first responders.
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