Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: Don’t burnout, turn it around!

November 30, 2020
By Gord Schreiner

Today’s firefighters face so many challenges. Stress is coming at us from every angle both internally and externally and we need to remember that we cannot help others unless we help ourselves too.

Many of today’s firefighters are feeling overwhelmed; out of control. We are facing ever increasing workloads, unreasonable expectations and long hours all while dealing with a worldwide pandemic. For some, the addition of COVID-19 is tipping the balance they have tried to maintain for years.

Getting burnout typically happens over time and can lead to serious physical and mental problems. It can turn your life upside down and damage your relationships, both at work and at home. It can be as bad; sometimes worse than getting sick from an illness or physical injury. It can affect you forever.

■ How do we fight burnout?
To fight burnout, we can start by working towards being better version of ourselves. You are in charge of you; it all starts and ends with you. Look after yourself, both physically and mentally. Get more sleep, stay physically fit, eat well and do not abuse your body. Make time for your family and yourself to balance the good with the bad. You owe it to yourself and others to stay in good shape (both physically and mentally). The fitter you are, the more energy you’ll have to work toward improvement and bettering yourself.

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As we age, eating properly becomes more important; our bodies have a harder time dealing with the things we put in it, including excessive calories. The old adage of ‘you are what you eat’ is very true. Eat good to be good. Eat great to be great.

Move your body. Get outdoors and walk, run, bike; move, move, move. Exercise is key to a healthy body but be sure to keep your mind healthy too. Stay positive and reach out and talk to others when you have problems or concerns. Rest is important too. Don’t forget to take some me time to recharge your batteries.

Take opportunities to make a positive difference in the fire service and the lives of others. Do not blame others for your shortcomings or failures. Do not make excuses. Just get out and do it. I chuckle when someone tells me they are going to change. You do not have to tell me or anyone else, just show us. Bettering yourself is a life long journey. It never ends and takes constant effort. The people who understand this work hard every day to become better. Unfortunately, there are others who sit back and do little but complain. If you find yourself complaining a lot, it’s a sign you need to change. Quit complaining and start doing! Step up to make your weaknesses your strengths: do more and expect less.

Be nice to everyone you meet, especially to those of lesser fortune and do so even on days you do not feel like being nice. Lift others up rather than put others down. Do not criticize others and try to commit at least one random act of kindness (RAK) every day. This might be a simple as holding a door open for someone or paying it forward in a drive through.

I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with many great firefighters in my life. Watching and learning from others over the years has made me a better person and firefighter. It is very clear to me that I am in charge of who I am. I can learn from others to become a better me. I can choose to be a nice person or not. I have noticed that great firefighters are constantly helping others. They are not selfish but seek opportunities to help others without the expectation of receiving anything. They know that helping others helps them too. Great firefighters treat others better than they expect to be treated. Great firefighters are humble.

To be a great person/firefighter, you also need to maintain healthy relationships. This includes with your family, friends, co-workers, employer and associates. Having a good relationship with anyone requires a solid effort. Do not take these relationships for granted. You need to pay attention to them and put a positive effort into them to get positive results. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to cope with a bad relationship. So, avoid these and make effort to turn bad relationships into good ones.

Have an open mind to changes, including to changing yourself. Reinvent yourself and try new things to open your mind to change. Read. It keeps you sharp, helps expand your mind and makes it easier for you to accept change. But don’t only read fire service items. Choose a broad spectrum of items to read and do so often.

Avoid and stop burnout by working on making yourself even better and stay safe out there.


Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is the full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at firehall@comox.ca and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.


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