Everyone Goes Home: Will your family be there?

The fire service is an occupation like none other. It is one of brotherhood, sacrifice, and courage. It is a second family that you are grafted into the day you become a firefighter. As a firefighter you work many hours acquiring your necessary certifications, degrees, and work hard to maintain a level of combat readiness mentally & physically. A firefighter who is truly passionate about his or her calling possesses the ability to influence, change, and positively impact other lives.

But then there is the dark side of our ambition that is not often talked about…

As you progress through your career you begin to work harder at making a difference and your efforts begin to pay off. You are well-respected, teach/train/mentor others, and you are highly sought after for your expertise. The trouble lies in the earlier statement: The fire department is your second family. Approximately 75% (9 out of 12) of firefighters will suffer a divorce.

Many of us came into the fire service with a loving family who have supported us, encouraged us, and watched after our children while we worked, went to school, or while we were “improving the fire service”. So why is it that we as firefighters, who took an oath to lay down our lives for the public if necessary, have forgotten about our families at home? Are not our spouse & children our greatest investment? Aren’t they our “crew”? Are they not the reason “everyone goes home”? As scripture states “you have forgotten your first love”.

We spend thousands of hours perfecting our craft, becoming certified, and working to be the best that we can be. How many hours are we dedicating to learning to be a good husband/wife and a good father/mother? How much time are we spending with our family where are mind is truly on them? Is your mind elsewhere?

We are taught that if we are distracted we can make mistakes on the fire-ground. We preach situational awareness, taking pride in what you do, and not becoming complacent. Why is it we not practicing what we preach at home? The statistical data proves that we are at a greater risk for heart attack, cancer, and several other occupationally related illnesses. And that data shows that we are at a much greater risk of divorce than anyone else. So why are we putting the cart before the horse?

My friends, the answer lies in our priorities & core values. Your core values determine who you are. You are a good firefighter because of your values such as: integrity, compassion, courage, honor, honesty, etc. These core values where (hopefully) instilled in you by your family. If you believe in God, as I do, then your priorities are to be: God, family, then your fire department family, and others. You are to work so that you may live. You should not “live to work”. If your priorities are out of order you will one day find yourself staring at retirement papers wondering if you will be able to live without this job. When you leave this earth you leave behind two things: your word & your children.

Being a firefighter means you are never off duty. Your drive to serve your fellow man goes deeper than any patch, badge, or title that man can bestow upon you. The commitment to your calling as a firefighter should be based on the depth of your great love for your family at home and your desire to go home safely to them.

In closing, remember we are blessed with two families. Keep “your home” family first & your fire department family second and your house will always remain in order. Let’s practice what we preach at home and at work.

“Just as firefighters are willing to rescue someone from a
burning building, Christian firefighters must be willing to come to the aid of hurting
firefighters before their marriages end in divorce.” Dr. James Dobson

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes
Isaiah 65:24

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The great contradiction of the fire service

The fire service is one marked with a long tradition of service, sacrifice, teamwork, and compassion. Many departments across our country are volunteer organizations that operate with little funding/support from the community or tax base that they protect. Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, love what they do. It is calling to most and can at times be one of the most rewarding pursuit. Many firefighters sacrifice themselves daily (time, money, and dedication) so that their community will be protected.

What then would you say is contradictory about what we do? I have had a great burden laying heavy on my heart for a number of years now. This burden is this: I see that we will lay our lives down for someone else s life or property but we will not overcome our problems with our own co-workers. It is a common theme I see everywhere you go. The station will have the majority that gets along well but inevitably there will be one or two individuals that they wouldn’t stop to help if their life depended on it.

Why is this? Where have we gone wrong? Our we merely figuratively living out this profession but if someone calls us out, we would lose the courage of our convictions? I compare this to my own spiritual walk as a Christian. I heard it said that we should all carry a sign over our head that says “Under Construction”. We tend to forget where we came from and lose all compassion/sympathy for any behavior that we refuse to tolerate any more. T.D. Jakes said “Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you get to burn down the school”.

My friends, if we are to honor the calling we have answered we must follow it with no exceptions. This applies to your family first, your co-workers second, and the citizens you serve third. You are someone’s only hope and that someone may be the firefighter who sits next to you. What are you doing to save their life?

Keep up the good work & take care of one another,

Andy J. Starnes

Managing the daily personality disasters and the emotions evoked in the fire house

How does fire service work create heightened workplace emotions?

First we have to start off by stating that each individual handles workplace emotions differently. One employee may allow it to not bother them versus another employee may dwell on an emotion until it reaches a boiling point. Stress brings out emotions and in the fire service extreme stress isn’t uncommon. As members of the fire service we deal in matters of uncertainty. We train for those events but the circumstances of the next event may be something we have never seen before. Events such as: Acts of Terrorism, conflagration fires, mass casualty incidents, high angle incidents, hazardous material incidents, and the list is only limited by your imagination. These types of incidents are stressful in and of themselves.

The daily call volume of incidents such as a structure fires, CPR’s, gun-shots, stabbings, car accidents, domestic violence, and so on can create a significant amount of stress.
Now, take the first two issues and add the next stressor: the fire station environment. Even the best firehouse with the best crews will have difficulties and stresses that come with spending 1/3rd of your life with the same people.

An average American works an eight-hour day and returns home spending approximately 40 hours a week with his or her co-workers. A firefighter spends 56 hours a week (24 hours at a time) with his or her co-workers. To compound this exposure we live together, eat together, sleep together, and finally we work together. We do not have the luxury of taking an hour lunch break and escaping from the “bad egg” in the station. We are confined to our quarters for 24 hours. These factors together are like a fuel rich environment just waiting on the right fuel to air mixture before the big bang.

In the business world your workplace stress is limited to your co-worker interaction on business only. In the fire service we do everything together. It is a family environment where crews literally get together off-duty for dinner and parties etc. A healthy fire station should be able to handle the natural cycle of ups and downs with that are caused by emotions.

What happens when emotions in the station go spinning out of control?

As a member of the fire service, no matter the rank, you have the responsibility for identifying the signs of emotional crisis. This responsibility applies to your co-workers, subordinates, superiors, and to yourself. Each person is a critical component to the fire service therefore each person is responsible for the success of the team. There is no “I” in team but there is a “Me”. Crew integrity and station moral are directly influenced by workplace emotions. If you don’t believe this is true walk into any fire station in America and disrupt their routine. I imagine you will see and hear a variety of workplace emotions. Employee Assistance Programs, CISD programs, and counseling services are all critical resources for helping us cope. The issue that still remains after these sessions are over is “Can you manage the daily personality disasters and the emotions evoked in the fire house?”

The Peacemaker versus Damage Control:
Some of the most successful crews that have worked together for years have learned a concept most married couples have not. They have learned to accept, embrace, and even defend each others differences (no matter how annoying) for the sake of continuity. One of my mentor’s would get up every morning and clean up after every one before the next shift came in even if it wasn’t his turn to do so. When asked about this, he responded by saying “I can spend five minutes, get it done, and not hear any complaining around here.” His words struck a chord with me. He was willing to go the extra mile and not receive any credit for his efforts because his reward was peace and quiet.

As a crew we have to be able to function as one unit in order to mitigate an incident. Most crews in the fire service have no problem performing when the bell hits but when ask them to decide on how to arrange the day room furniture and World War III erupts. The simplest things we do have the greatest impact on our lives. By doing our part individually we do well. By doing our part and helping our co-workers we become exceptional.

When people interact under one roof for 24 hours there is bound to be conflict. As previously stated, the key is to identify it early, deal with it, and move on. As Chief Brunacini once said “Win but don’t win too big”. I always thought that he meant the greater good equaled winning while those out for individual glory tried to win too big. The concept of heightened emotions in the workplace can be a difficult one to manage if you are constantly reacting to it. We have to realize that with heightened emotions comes a heightened awareness of your surroundings. Most of the time, the behaviors at a fire station don’t blind-side you from out of nowhere. We all have to pay attention, play nice, and occasionally back-up and punt. Situational Awareness matters not just on the scene but in the fire house!

Stay safe & take care of one another

Andy J. Starnes

Emotions & The Fire Service

Emotions & The Fire Service

In a typical day at the fire station emotions are evoked from a myriad of events. We may have to perform an unexpected task that evokes the emotion of disgust because of this interrupts the plans that the company had for that day. We may be discussing the economy and it may evoke feelings of insecurity and tension. We may be performing in-service training, pre-planning structures, doing normal station duties, running calls, and administrative work. These are but a few examples of what a Firefighter’s daily routine is like.

Emotions in the workplace play a direct role in employee performance, career length, and overall business effectiveness. In the fire service with a four-man crew managed and led by a Captain there are a variety of emotions that affect our daily routines. Emotional stress from home can negatively impact the performance of a firefighter and reduce the ability of the crew to function successfully. A firefighter that is experiencing difficulties at home (without any support or counseling) will not have his or her mind on the task at hand (which could lead to an OJI or worse). Our home families are our first priority and our fire department family is our second priority. Anyone under a significant amount of home related stress is going to have their focus elsewhere. This could be a safety issue. Departmental resources should be made available to those in need without discrimination and certain employees should be mandatory referred to those services in order to prevent harm.

Career length is an issue I believe is often under estimated. Employees who leave corporations and large businesses are seldom missed or looked into. I worked as a sales person for Sears back in the early nineties (working my way through college) and a gentleman I worked with didn’t show up for work one day. He was an elderly man and had worked for Sears for 20 years rarely missing a day of work. Two weeks went by before anyone noticed he wasn’t there. The manager at the time called to check in on him only to find out he had passed away two weeks prior. In the past, individuals worked for a company as a lifelong career. A positive caring environment where people looked after each other was not uncommon.

In today’s world employees hop from job to job, rolling 401k’s over constantly, pensions are unheard of, and someone working 30 years in one place is viewed as unique. The fire service is slowly becoming affected by this trend. Individuals are realizing that the fire service is a very secure job (for the moment ). Employees with higher education than the job requires are becoming firefighters. Then in 3-5 years the employees who don’t work their way up the career ladder of the fire service are leaving. Quitting the fire service before your tenure was up used to be unheard of but now is becoming more common.

The role that emotions are playing in career length in this scenario is twofold. The first example is of individual simply becoming a firefighter for job security purposes (good schedule, benefits, retirement, etc.). This individual typically doesn’t last more than five years. They are over-qualified and soon find out the amount of stress, actual work, and minimal pay are not what they had envisioned.
The second example of how emotions are affecting career length in the fire service is one that isn’t often talked about. Heart attacks, higher incidence of cancer, higher divorce rate (84%), anxiety, shortened life span, and working two-three jobs to feed their families. These are examples of the effects of non-counseled, non-treated and silent subjects in the fire service. Why is this? We work a long shift, can be awakened from a deep sleep to perform physically demanding work, and see the most unimaginably horrible things that happen to men, women, and children. These incidents lead to anxiety, stress, anger, depression, high blood pressure, and other health issues. At this point, you might be saying well why would anyone want to be a firefighter? I truly believe it is a calling, something that you feel in your heart, and you know this is your path. The issue is not the job but how the job affects us. We perform physically demanding tasks yet we have sub standard physical requirements. We witness tragic events but are not required to be counseled or debriefed. We experience health issues but the majority of the departments do not mandate an in-depth annual physical (Wellness Fitness Initiative). If you are given the tools, training, and resources to do a job doesn’t it make sense to perform preventative maintenance to help ensure a positive and productive employee?

Overall business effectiveness can be negatively impacted by underestimating the role of emotions in the workplace. Poor morale is one example of how emotions can affect business effectiveness. Fisher’s Job Emotion Scale (JES) lists 16 emotions that can used to survey employees. As an employer you may choose which emotions to list in your survey especially if those in this field are more prone to a specific type of emotion. Employees can be surveyed by having them describe an event or situation that caused them to feel one of the selected emotions (Ashkanasy, p 38). These results can be grouped into two categories: positive & negative emotions. Then these categories can be listed under headings specific to the cause such as: Acts of management, Acts of employees, Acts of customers. This study was used to analyze and create a model for organizational justice. Organizational justice breaks theories into a two stage model of events: the outcomes that one receives and the processes by which these outcomes are assigned (Greenburg, 1990). The goal with a study such as this is not to eliminate negative emotions (which are impossible); it is identify them quickly and deal with them.

In conclusion, emotion’s root word is emote which implies energy is moving out. Emotions are attempted to express outwardly, or to express what we believe (Pennington, Haslam). An employer who understands the importance that emotions play in affecting the workplace environment will be better equipped at managing and preventing workplace incidents due to emotional influences. Pennington & Haslam’s model is a very simple explanation of the role emotions play in our life: thoughts + emotions+ behaviors= results. As a firefighter, understanding that your emotions need to be expressed, dealt with in a positive manner, and not suppressed. One who suppresses his/her emotions will ultimately suffer the consequences of this. As it has been said “Bitterness is like me drinking poison and hoping someone else dies”. Our logic is flawed. Our calling is to serve & sacrifice for our fellow man so how much more should we be taking care of our own.

Stay safe & take care of each other.

Andy J. Starnes