Health and Wellness
r d a n P o n d e r Achild was killed in a co-sleeping incident. I can clearly recall the scene. A loving, impoverished household wept and screamed as I told them that heir six-week-old son, brother, and cousin had passed. The child’s father, a man about six feet, four inches and 315 pounds, thrashed around inconsolably. As he
grieved and wailed, calling for his only son, the police
tried to calm him, fearing he would lash out at any one
of us. He was still calmer than when we found him,
and his fear was clearly directed at us to, “DO SOME-
THING!” His son, whom he knew for less than two
months, was now dead. I can clearly recall the moment
of hesitation when I keyed my mic to inform dispatch
that our patient was dead, stating, “Dispatch E- 30.
10-99 with ALS. 10-99 time 0155.” Working hard to
remain professional yet compassionate, I touched the
shoulder of the patient’s confused and heartbroken
10-year-old cousin after telling her there was nothing
more we could do. Offering one last bit of condolence,
I glanced back to the child’s thrashing father, heartbroken cousin, and now the dead body of the six-week-old
before leaving the second floor of their duplex to ready
myself for the next emergency.
Our profession is unique. It is wonderful and stressful.
You are going to experience fear, discomfort, confrontation, excitement, pain, and confusion. The stress that
comes with the experiences is inevitable. If you do not
deal with these emotions properly, you can develop
unhealthy coping mechanisms that may deteriorate
you over time. Some of these habits are obvious, while
others are subtle. Regardless, you are impacted by the
experiences you have as a firefighter, and it is essential to
develop healthy habits for addressing these stresses.
STRESS MANAGEMENT PLAN
When it comes to any issue, you need to have a management plan. This is evident in the way you perform
during emergencies or even at the firehouse. You need to
be ready for the inevitable stresses of the profession with a
stress management plan. Now, is every person in the fire
service the same? Of course not. Is every stress management plan going to be the same? Of course not. You need
to find the specifics that are meaningful to you.
To assist you in finding those specifics, below are
some guidelines that have been helpful to so many.
Within those guidelines, you’ll find specifics that are
unique to me, but I invite you to explore how these
guidelines can help you. Regardless, be sure to find
healthy ways to process the stresses of our profession
and be recovered!
You need to be honest! You have thoughts and
emotions. Some may be stronger for you than others,
but you have them, regardless. If you fail to acknowledge this fact, you will not recover. When it comes to
thoughts and emotions, the first thing you need to be
When I go to a chaotic scene, there is a flood of
thoughts and emotions. These thoughts and emotions
can push and pull my mind, mood, and motives in
different directions. Sometimes they push and pull
harder than others but, nonetheless, they can make
me unbalanced if I’m not aware of them. While these
emotions, and sometimes thoughts, are not bad, it’s
understanding them as a natural process that comes
with the experiences we have.
To that, we need to find appropriate times to be
honest with these thoughts and emotions. When done
in a controlled and healthy environment, it allows
you to begin the healing process in a healthy way.
Some ways you can be honest with your thoughts and
feelings that have been helpful include the following:
• Sitting and breathing: Allow the thoughts to go
free, but continue to come back to breathing.
• Journaling: Write out every thought and feeling in
shorthand, even if illegible and messy.
• Remembering: Revisit those experiences—this can
be good if you return to where you actually are in
life. This will help you process anything that may
not be fully relieved.
To be honest is the first step. However, it is only the
first step. After you have taken time to be honest, you
need to be open.
Thoughts and emotions are neither right nor wrong
but can be healthy and unhealthy. They can encourage you to make good decisions or bad decisions.
While you first need to be honest, you also need to be
open. By taking time to be open, you’ll be integrating
those you trust and respect into your life while avoiding the unhealthy isolation and seclusion that can be
common when dealing with stress.
Your stress management recovery plan