If depression was a “black dog”, I wonder what could be made of anxiety, addiction, or PTSD? And, that is still ignoring the larger issues that first responders can suffer from. This includes, as is usually excluded, our friends in dispatch and corrections. I feel that if labeling just one of the disorders in this haunting image of shadows and teeth, I can only think to try and capture all the disorders would take some mythological knowledge. That, I do not have and leave it to smarter people to identify. But, if we are going to have any control at all, then we would need a leash.
That leash is the abolishment of stigma.
Removing the very “scary” notion that these disorders are the result of us being “wired wrong” or “different” from others is a mandatory step. We fear what we don’t know; but, we might be more fearful of what we think we know. And if we get our ideas of mental health from movies, surely we have a right to be afraid. After all, we tend to characterize violent criminals as “insane” and quickly label them as “having a screw loose”. We do this to distance ourselves from the very real idea that someone “normal” could produce such horrific, violent actions. But, if we were to learn anything from Milgrim or Zimbardo, we know that given the right circumstances, we too could commit horrific acts.
Stigma allows us to create that distance. A psychological fence for which the Black dog, or beast, or whatever we want to identify it as metaphorically, is separated from us. I see this almost every day. Those who finally reach out for help sit quietly, head down, waiting for their appointment. They wear shame and guilt upon their face as if they deserve whatever punishment that they are experiencing. They might be 6 feet tall, but many of them, when they sit in the chair, occupy less space than small children. The stigma of their experience has pounded and gnashed their very spirits into nothingness. They sit a pool of emotional confusion and utter psychological torture. They embody the dog behind the fence. And they see all the “normal people” as outside and think to themselves that the grass seems always greener. Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I be like I was?
Part of my role, and any therapist’s role is to re-establish emotionally connectivity and normalize their experiences. Indeed, this may seem very odd given that they struggle to get out of bed, they cut, they have actively attempted to die by suicide, and maybe often ushered to the hospital in a flurry of overdoses and other psychological and physiological concerns. How, I see in their eyes, can you call this normal? The stigma weighs them down.
It is a therapist job to create a leash. Because we need to walk this dog a while before we learn to let it go and move on. But, what of the ground for which the dog occupies? Well, that is the environment that they are in. Having spent 10 years in the fire service, I’ve felt this “us versus them” within the first responder environment.
Too many times have I read that “if you can’t cut it, cut out”. This damning and damaging adage does nothing but exaggerate the emotional confusion of their companions. And, of course, it is completely and utterly untrue. It is absurd. So, the argument can be extended, if an electrician develops anxiety then she is no good for the job? If the secretary develops depression, he is then doomed to seek other employment? The absurdity of the idea is seen clearly when that argument is applied to its fullest.
And, the above jobs are thought to experience traumatic events rather rarely; however, the argument then suggests that even though the traumatic exposure is increased for first responders, one is held to an ever-higher standard of mental resiliency. This does nothing but continue the idea that first responders are more than human. This is the crackpot elitism that needs to be swiftly removed from the service’s philosophy. With this idea gone, we can more easily operate on the removing of stigma from the services.
There is a check for whether stigma is present in the workplace. After returning from a call, pay attention during the standard round table. Listen for if people talk about how they might have felt helpless, or hopeless, or perhaps that this call “bugged” them a bit. It is safe to say that this is on the way to developing a stigma-free workplace. Clearly, they remain comfortable and feel supported in that environment. But, as is too often the case, if “I’m fine” works its way around the table, there is work to be done. This is the most common response. Of course, that means that the facilitator of the debrief needs to change the questions; but, be cautious. If the administration remains philosophically unchanged, no amount of diverse questioning will make the crew feel safe enough to step up.
Stigma is crushing the services. This may seem counter-intuitive to what we have been witnessing in the media with the flurry of news uncovering PTSD in First Responders. But, this is just an iceberg. What means while it is finally being admitted that there are real mental health injuries that can be the result of work within the field, we are ignoring all the mental health concerns that also affect us. We are only looking at the small piece sticking out of the water. Soon, we will realize that a more holistic outlook is needed. Mental Health is as important as physical health. We need to recognize it as such. Let’s leash the beast and take it for a walk.
A box alarm is dispatched in the first due, for a reported house fire. You and your crew are on the truck assignment and have been tasked with performing the primary search on the second division. The fire is confirmed to be underneath you in the first division. During your search, you enter a corner bedroom and check the far corner of the room. Suddenly, you notice that the fire burns a hole through the floor, and now you’re stuck with no apparent means of egress. Your crew is unable to reach you, and conditions are rapidly changing, forcing them to bail back down the stairs and out the front door. You look out of the bedroom window, and there is nothing there. No front/side porch roof, no ladder, nothing. You’re all alone, and you’re stuck. Would you call the mayday? If you answered yes, then good for you. You recognized that there is an immediate life danger, and aren’t afraid to ask for help. If you answered no, why? Are you too full of pride to ask for help? Are you afraid of being ridiculed by the guys back at the fire house?
Too often, pride and egos get in the way of making the right call. By refusing to declare a mayday when it’s needed, you’re not only putting yourself at risk but the entire company as well. Command calls up to the second division search team for a SitRep, and suddenly there is no response. You’re still contemplating a way to get out of the room with the hole in the floor. You sit there, thinking of a way to escape, but it’s too late. The heat overcomes you, you lose consciousness, and helplessly drop through the floor like a ton of bricks. Emotions run high, wondering what is going on and why you aren’t answering. Command sends in a second crew to check on your status. Running on pure adrenaline the second crew charges into the structure to look for you, only knowing your last location. Emotion overtakes the critical thinking part of the brain, and the second crew rushes into the very same room that you were in, and much like you, they fall through the floor. Now, instead of one man down, there are three.
Three widows. Parents who have to bury their child. Children that no longer have fathers.
Refusing to call a “Mayday” doesn’t only affect you… Swallow your pride; make the call.
What It Really Entails To Be The Senior Fire Fighter
You have just finished your probationary year and now are signed off as a rescue driver and have two other probationary firefighters underneath you. Or you are that six month firefighter riding backwards with a three month firefighter. You can be that five or six year firefighter medic senior to everyone else. So what does it mean to be the senior guy? Floating rights? Vacation rights? Transfer rights? Those are benefits of seniority, but the role of the “Senior Firefighter” I can assure you, is more than that. This department is extremely young with over eighty percent of the force less than ten years on the job. The definition and responsibilities bestowed upon the Senior Firefighter has been lost throughout the years. So, what does it really entail being the “Senior Firefighter?”
The senior firefighter in many departments across the United States is a firefighter at a station who has had some time and experience with the department and station and is well respected amongst his/her crew members. The senior firefighter leads the front in training and leads by example in helping cleaning around the station. Even though it is not a rank, it is a position to be respected. The person holding this role is a reflection of the Company Officer’s expectations and makes sure the flow of the fire house stays consistent even in the absence of the company officer. The senior firefighter helps keep the heat off the company officer and helps mitigate station issues before it gets to the CO or above. The senior firefighter displays competence and character. Obviously, this firefighter should have experience but with the amount of hiring and decreased amount of fires, experience may be hard to get. And experience is not the Holy Grail. It is what you do with that experience that counts. As a firefighter, a “Senior Firefighter” at that, must share the experiences, both the good and the bad, which they have learned over the years.
A huge virtue of the senior firefighter is that of humility. This person does not hold oneself above all else. These firefighters do not hold their knowledge to themselves or belittle everyone else when they are leading the training. Humbleness gets you everywhere in this world and will land the respect you deserve when you dish it back. Clean and scrub the toilets alongside the probie, throw the trash out, help check out the assigned rigs.
I cannot stress enough that this job is inherently dangerous, yet our department has an obligation to train us to a certain standard. Knowing this and knowing you may only have two to three years on the job, it is up to you to continue training and taking classes. And I do not mean just your pump ops and fire officer classes. You got those classes? Kudos to you. It means you have taken initiative to further educate yourself to promote to a supervisory role. But while you are still a firefighter, I suggest taking a fire fighter survival class, a truck company operations class, forcible entry, extrication, engine company operations classes, etc. Any class that is hands on and help master the craft will make you a better firefighter. The internet is also a wonderful tool, with multiple firefighter training websites and You Tube being a wonderful tool. Just remember to go out and do hands on practice. Practice by yourself, master the craft, and then pass it along to the new rookies coming along. It can very well save both of your lives.
The Senior Firefighter is the true definition of PRIDE and OWNERSHIP. Properly groomed, uniform is pressed, shoes are shined. The Halligan Tool is finely tuned; the axes, mauls, and hooks are wrapped with the fire house’s colors. The engine and rescue are washed regularly and waxed quarterly, all this because the senior firefighter sees it that it gets done and leads by being the first to wash or wax. The hose beds are all bedded and dressed properly with nozzles free of obstructions and set at the correct gpm setting. These individuals represent their fire house on and off duty, through actions and values.
As you can see, the senior firefighter has many a tasks and roles to play. They are a: coach, mentor, listener, work out partner, non-commissioned officer, friend, and above all, the one that helps maintain the safety of the crew.
One of the biggest attributes is being well versed about the job and its traditions and has a lot of love and passion for the job. A department this size, with the amount of personnel hired within the last ten years, it is hard to get a seasoned 20 year veteran. If you fit as the senior firefighter with less than five years on the job, ask yourself: Are you as good as a firefighter you are supposed to be? Are you able to perform all aspects of the job efficiently and effectively according to your scope of practice? Are you training every day? Are you mentoring those underneath you? Are you yourself seeking mentorship and learning from those who came before you? Are you taking classes to better your craft? Are you making sure your partner and you see eye to eye and can anticipate each other’s moves on the fire ground? All that is part of being the Senior Firefighter.
I LEAVE YOU WITH THESE LAST FEW WORDS:
BE SEEN AS THE SENIOR FIREFIGHTER BECAUSE OF YOUR ACTIONS, NOT THE AMOUNT OF TIME YOU HAVE ON THE JOB. LIVE THE JOB. LOVE THE JOB. BE THE JOB.
Stay low ya’ll.
This firefighter on the bottom is Firefighter Joseph Angelini Sr. of FDNY’s Rescue 1. He was the Senior Man of the Company. He perished at the age of 63, yes that is correct: 63 years of age on 9/11. At the time he was the oldest active firefighter on the force. Firefighter Angelini was known to be out on the bay every tour of duty maintaining the tools and cleaning the apparatus. He was always on “on the job” whether he was on duty at the fire house or off duty and happened to stumble upon an emergency. Joseph Angelini Sr. told a bunch of his coworkers he did not know what to do when he would be forced to retire the next year at the age of 65 because for over 40 years, the fire service is all he knew. He was a true example of what it meant to be the Senior Firefighter.
As a student of the fire service few things speak to me more than this quote from an unknown author… “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room!”
I mean this more figuratively than literally. If you are the senior man on the company, you probably have a plethora of knowledge and experience. Its possible that you even have more time on the firehouse crapper than your officer has on the job. Does this make you the smartest person in the room? I sincerely hope not. I hope you open your mind to the idea that everyone brings something to the table and therefore presents an opportunity for you to learn.
Many people hold the idea that knowledge is power. In the realm of leadership, the official term is “expert power”. Some “leaders” try to retain that power rather than using it to empower their people. Many people feel that if they share their “power” they will lose it.
There are still others who feel threatened by reaching out to subject matter experts to collaborate on or teach a class. They somehow feel they threatened that they may not know something. One of the most important lessons (in my opinion) that I teach new firefighters is that it is ok to say I don’t know or let me look that up. The last thing I want is for one of my guys’ pit bull mouth to overload their hummingbird butt so to speak!
As a company officer and leader I have always held that I want to teach anyone who works with me everything I know. If I teach them everything I know and they go off and learn just one more thing, they are now smarter than me and I am no longer the smartest person in the room! By empowering my people with knowledge, selfishly I now have the opportunity to learn something new. Also selfishly, I now have an additional set of eyes that better than mine; not only are they capable of looking after themselves but they are also capable of looking after me!
It is no surprise that drug use has been a problem around the country for several decades. What is surprising, is the alarmingly increasing rate of drug-related deaths, involving heroin. I’m sure that you’ve noticed an increased number of calls in your area, either while listening to the scanner, or even being dispatched on these calls to assist EMS. The call will likely come across dispatch as an “unconscious overdose.” If you do get dispatched with EMS, check your call statistics from years past, and I’m sure you will notice an increasing trend with EMS assist calls. If you don’t work for a department, or volunteer at one, you can see what I am talking about here…
Below are three separate charts, pulled directly from the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) website. In chart 1, it shows the number of overdose deaths involving all drugs, from 2002 – 2015. It’s obvious that there is an increasing trend. 2015 was the highest recorded year thus far, with over 50,000 deaths due to drug overdoses. In chart 2, it shows the number of overdose deaths, involving strictly opioid drugs, both prescribed and not. Of the 50,000 deaths in 2015, nearly 35,000 of those were from opioid drugs. In chart 3, it shows the number of overdose deaths involved only heroin. In 2015, of the near 35,000 opioid deaths, nearly 14,000 were from heroin alone. Heroin deaths have been on a steady increase, rising to nearly 10,000 deaths in only four (4) years. More and more people are using heroin than ever before, and it is only getting worse. We found a short-term solution that many of you are probably familiar with and are trained to administer in these types of situations. I’m of course talking about naloxone, commonly known as Narcan. The true question is, what is the permanent solution for heroin overdoses?
Note: Click on the picture to enlarge it.
Rescue’s take a certain type of fireman, they’re often the methodical thinkers that can solve any problem. These firemen think ahead, WAY ahead. They are planning on what to do when plan-C and D don’t work. But are they a particular breed or are they just simple thinkers?
As I tried to fall asleep one night, it dawned on me that I had to re-assemble my three-year-old son’s “Volcano Truck “ for his show and tell the next day. Assembly should not be a problem, however, the day before, I had thrown away the directions. So all I had to work off of was previous knowledge and a picture I found on the box. Without a hitch, we put it back together, just like it was from the packaging. This happened because my son pointed out a few things that he had remembered that I didn’t. See our minds work differently. He saw the big picture or the finished product and all I saw was the little details.
My son and I are a team, much like my crew and I. At some point, one of the guys on my crew has ‘seen this before’ or done a certain thing, and it worked, which is great when we can all accept that our idea isn’t the best way. These guys have over 100+ years on, they have seen the truck built a time or two and know which way is the best to reassemble after it’s broken. Our minds work differently too; they’re scanning the brain thinking where have I seen this before. Me on the other hand, I am looking at the big picture.
Through all their experience and knowledge, while I don’t deny them the classification as a special breed because they most certainly are. I think they’re just simple thinkers and apply the knowledge of 100+ years. Rarely are they ever wrong, you know why? When they find out something works, they remember it, BUT more importantly, when something doesn’t work they never forget it.
We just got on shift when we were washing the rig when a school bus pulled up to pick up a bunch of kids for school at the corner of the street. Their mothers kissed them on the cheek and waved goodbye. At that moment the senior guy turned to me and said, “You see all those kids, you see that mother, that’s who you are responsible for today”. That was 10 years ago and he couldn’t be more correct to this day.
What would you do to protect your kids? Your wife/husband? Your mother or father? Would you risk your life? If they were stuck in a fire but you could turn the clock back would you make sure everything is perfect? Your gear perfectly set up to be quickly donned. The quickest route to the call and the location of the nearest hydrant. So I ask you this. Why are they any different?
We have an obligation to risk EVERYTHING in order to save the public. If you don’t agree then this job is not for you. This job comes with inherit risks and putting our own lives on the line is one of them. If you don’t believe me, read the warning label on your helmet or jacket. If you don’t believe me read the NIOSH reports that are published on a monthly basis. Don’t believe me look at the civilian casualty reports. That screaming mother expects you to do everything to save her child. If she had your gear she would do it herself. Some even try to attempt it without it.
It’s time we change the way we look at things. SEARCH EVERYTHING, EVERY TIME, EVERY TIME OF THE DAY!!! It’s not clear until the fire department says its all clear! That owner of the house who said there’s no one else inside didn’t realize his neighbor went in through the back door looking for him and is now lying unconscious on the living room floor. We must SEARCH!
TRAIN! TRAIN on things you don’t know, TRAIN again on things you do know, TRAIN not just until you get it right, but until you don’t get it wrong. It’s your job! Ask the old guy for advice; ask the new guy what he just learned in class, as your neighboring departments why they approached that situation that way. Wouldn’t you want the best trained to respond to your family in the event of an emergency? TRAIN!! All of our lives depend on it!
There will be a time when your unit is going to be called to a situation that is unimaginable. It is going to be your unit’s job to conquer it. Remember we are it, we are the last resort. We are the sheep dogs that protect our herd. So next time you are going down the road in your rig and you see that family stopped next to you at the red light. Just remember… That is who you are responsible for today.
– S. Cox
East Coast Fire Tactics
I recently overheard a debate among some guys at the firehouse about how they prefer to move through the fire building. Of course, you’ve heard the old adages, “if you can’t see your feet, crawl”, and “if the heat is too high, crawl”. One guy brought up the ability to sound the floor while being cognizant of potential victims.
I found this fascinating and it got me thinking so here we are…
Throughout fire school we perform nearly every drill on our hands and knees. This teaches some fundamental skills we need not only to perform our jobs well but as a matter of survival in certain instances. Our basic search and rescue operations are performed crawling. We advance hose lines crawling. While crawling we learn to orient ourselves to the building while crawling, locating secondary and tertiary means of egress, mapping the building by detecting changes in architecture. It’s when we get out of fire school that we remember we are bipeds, we have the ability to walk and do so whenever possible because it’s easier and more efficient reserving crawling for when you can’t see your feet or it’s too hot.
I believe there are several considerations to how we should move through a building under fire that fall into two main categories, safety, and mission.
From a safety standpoint, crawling has some significant benefits. Our center of gravity is lower if we encounter a change in elevation such as a stairway or a hole in the floor, we more likely to stop ourselves before falling into it. Crawling also prepares us for the worst-case scenario. We orient ourselves to the building in the manner we may have to exit under emergency conditions. Simple things like the changes in floor coverings are important to maintaining our bearing especially if all of a sudden we lose our ability to see. Looking at the findings of “Project Mayday” a study of 1,000 significant mayday incidents, 25% of firefighters who called a mayday were lost or separated from their hose line. Are you maintaining a secondary means of orientation?
If we are at all worried about structural integrity (hence the need to sound the floor) speed shouldn’t be our first consideration. Again crawling lowers our center of gravity and allows us to use our tools such as the halligan to detect changes in elevation as we progress. According to “Project Mayday” the second leading cause of mayday incidents, 22%, were due to falls through the roof, floor, or stairway collapse.
While speed and efficiency are important especially today with rapid-fire progression, we must remain aware of our air supply. If you enter a building walking because it is faster, remember you may have to leave crawling. Are you monitoring your air supply to ensure you have the air to get out safely? The third most prevalent cause of maydays identified in “Project Mayday” was due to low air situations.
Another consideration is our particular mission at that fire. Are we advancing a hose line for fire attack, performing a primary search for life, or providing interior truck operations such as opening the ceiling? O
If we are advancing the hose line we might be the first to travel a particular path, we are responsible for navigation and ensuring the building is structurally sound. By advancing using a modified crawl with one leg forward we can accomplish two things, we are able to use our forward leg to feel the floor in front of us before we commit to it while moving significantly faster than crawling on our hands and knees.
If our mission is search and rescue, crawling affords us a few advantages. First, we are at the level of our victims. During primary-search we are checking likely locations of victims such as pathways to exits, in and under beds, on couches, etc. It is far more efficient to check on top of and under beds from the floor than standing up, kneeling down, and standing up again. Crawling also increases our wingspan, in low visibility conditions, we can cover more area more accurately by crawling instead of walking and using a tool to feel for victims.
If inside truck work is our mission, we are often operating independently of the hose line. What are we using to maintain our bearing to the exit? Opening the ceiling may require standing but most often in a single-family residence or even commercial buildings can be accomplished from a kneeling position with a 6-foot hook.
Abbott, D. (2016, February 1). The Mayday Project. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://www.firehouse.com/article/12156553/the-mayday-project
In the second Thin Line Fitness article, we’re going to talk about what to eat (and not to eat) while on shift. Though this may come across as common sense, you’ll see throughout your endeavors as a Firefighter, LEO, or EMS provider, that it is not that common.