By Bruce Lacillade
Sept. 28, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. – Fire fighting has always been filled with risks and is considered one of the most dangerous professions. I actually consider fire fighting to be more of a vocation, a calling, than just a profession. Our communities have come to rely upon and expect a rapid response and self-sacrifice from firefighters.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that much attention was given to firefighter health and safety. The focus on firefighter safety developed in conjunction with improvements in turnout gear and other firefighting equipment.
As with so many other facets of life, firefighter health and safety grew through trial and error. Better equipment was developed, along with safer and more effective fire attack methods.
In 1987, NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program was first published (I’d been on the job for 11 years by then). Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act had passed just seven years earlier.
Chapter 12 of NFPA 1500 addresses critical incident stress programs, which hopefully every fire department should have in place by now. These programs, combined with the growing focus on workplace stress in general across Canada, should aid in removing the stigma of firefighter stress issues.
In fact, recent studies show that approximately 70 per cent of Canadian workers have expressed concern regarding psychological health and safety in the workplace; so you’re not alone.
The most valuable component of a fire department, or any emergency service, is its people. As fire departments and municipalities continue to move forward with health and safety programs, there should no longer be a valid reason to, “Suck it up.”
Trauma – in the broadest sense of the term – is going to happen to all of us. You are going to encounter critical incidents that bother you. These incidents may build into what is termed cumulative stress or compassion fatigue. Please note we are more resilient when we understand that life is perpetually challenging us.
If we go with it, rather than resisting it, we will ultimately respond to trauma better and have a lot less resentment and negative emotions. So the more you learn about yourself and about the symptoms of stress the better off you’ll be.
P.S. – It's been months since my nephew's motorcycle accident, and he is doing OK. He seems to be accepting his prosthetic leg. In fact he was in Branson, Mo., this past week.
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