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


The Fire Service: We Still Believe

We Still Believe

“He did it with all his heart and prospered.”
2 Chronicles 31:21

As a member of the family of the fire service, we share a bond like none other. Our family consists of a unique group of individuals who, despite their differences or backgrounds, come together with their collective strengths and accomplish amazing things under very harsh circumstances. We are able at a moment’s notice to strategize and formulate a plan to mitigate an incident that we may have never even faced before.

We come from all walks of life. We are a diverse group of men and women who, as a whole, care about others more than ourselves. We share a common drive to better ourselves all for the sake of others. Our stations are called “fire houses” because they are our “home away from home”. We spend approximately 1/3rd of our lives with our brothers and sisters in the fire house. We come to know the good, bad, and the ugly sides of one another and work through it all. We are there for our fellow citizens in the tough times and we are there for each other in our times of difficulty.

The fire service has suffered many attacks lately due to the world’s financial crisis. Once it was unthinkable to suggest that a municipality would consider laying off firefighters. Sadly, many have lost their jobs, saw stations close, and in some cities, firefighters are duct taping their boots together to get by. 

After 9/11, the fire service received support in almost epic proportions. Funding, grants, donations, and our support from the public were tremendous. As in all things, we have seen this appreciation fade. Why in the face of so much adversity would anyone want to be a firefighter these days?

Charles Spurgeon says “This is no unusual occurrence; it is the general rule of the moral universe that those men prosper who do their work with all their hearts, while those are almost certain to fail who go to their labor leaving half their hearts behind them”

The men & women of the fire service love what we do. Many perform their calling as a volunteer receiving no compensation for all of their time, effort, and sacrifice. Some of us are career firefighters, who also volunteer as well. The men & women of the fire service “work with all their hearts” and believe in something much bigger than themselves. The fire service, no matter how much it is cut back, will always be a brotherhood of those who give more than they receive.  No other profession, besides our armed forces (God Bless Them!), willingly sacrifices their time, their health, and even their life for the sake of others.

Whether or not you believe in God, know that the fire service is a tradition of belief. We believe in values, traditions, and morals that are eternal. We wear a cross on our chest that symbolizes the first firefighters in Malta who died or were severely injured while they rescued their brothers who were being burned. We don’t require recognition, appreciation, or even a thank you. We do what we do out of our great love for the calling. A calling that says “We will be here, we will show up when no one else will, & we will do everything in our power to protect or save your life.” We still believe in this calling.

While the world may seem to becoming less compassionate, less appreciative, and less concerned about others. Remember there are dedicated men & women who serve together, no matter their differences or backgrounds, and will be there to help in a moment’s notices. My friends, this is the power of belief.



The Marriage May-Day: Firefighters need to call for help

The Marriage May Day:

‘Knowing when to call for help’

In the fire service, we are well trained on the subject of Rapid Intervention and May-Day scenarios. We train on possible downed firefighter situations and how to extricate ourselves or our brothers.  For the non-fire service reader let’s give a brief summation of a May Day scenario.

A reported house on fire is dispatched and as the fire department arrives they receive a report of a resident who is trapped in their bedroom.  The first due Engine establishes command and after performing a 360 takes his/her crew in for the rescue.  Other companies are arriving as the first Battalion Chief assumes command.  The firefighters become trapped as they were searching for the resident and are pinned down by a roof collapse. The downed firefighters are able to transmit a May Day, a call for help, in which this information is received: “May-Day, May-Day, May-Day, we are trapped in the Alpha/Bravo corner of the residence, this is Engine 99, we were performing a primary approximately 50’ in, and we will need RIT with a way to cut us out.”  This is called a LUNAR: location, unit & name, assignment, & the resources needed to affect the rescue. When this happens, a Rapid Intervention Team is deployed (RIT). This is a well-trained crew who is situationally aware of the incident. They have conducted a 360, thrown ground ladders for additional points of egress, controlled utilities, and have been attentive to the fire ground radio traffic.  They immediately go in to affect a rescue on those in need. At this point the Incident Commander orders additional resources, continues to fight the fire, and insures fire ground accountability.

What does this all have to do with marriage?

Nine out of twelve firefighter marriages end in divorce. That’s right 9 out of 12! As a profession, we are higher than the national average (which is 54%).  Firefighters face an enormous amount of stress and it often carries over into their personal lives.  What can we do about this problem? Let’s look at from a firefighter’s viewpoint:

Scene Size-up:

As a firefighter, the process of size-up is a continuous one that begins before the rig ever leaves the station. At a fire scene, the Incident Commander (IC) is constantly evaluating the conditions and whether the situation is improving.  In marriage, we should be constantly assessing our relationship. As a husband, I should be continuously studying and learning about my wife. Initially our passions, or fire if you will, are great for each other. Why do we treat our spouse’s differently after we are married? We shouldn’t stop dating each other after we are married. It is merely the beginning of a lifelong journey. 

As we go through life, the conflicts and commitments tend to cause us to focus less on each other and more on the immediate needs/concerns/or problems of life. Couples slowly begin to drift apart due to a lack of attention and care.  A relationship takes a great deal of work and dedication. The couple must be holding on to each other during the hard times or they will drift apart.

Working Fire: You have come to the realization that your marriage is in trouble. Sadly, most realize this way too late. It comes when they learn of infidelity or have been served divorce papers. As on a fire scene we have to be proactive, having an Incident Action Plan and or a strategy is key to the successful mitigation of an incident. In marriage, we need to embrace the plan, God’s plan, and follow His principles.

If you have read the Bible, you will find that the marital relationships that are referenced there are not without fault. Some faced great difficulty, trial, adultery, and some of it is even comical as Solomon wrote “It is better for a man to live on the corner of a roof top than underneath with a nagging & complaining wife.” (See Proverbs). 

Firefighters tend to be problem/solution oriented. Someone calls for help and we fix their problem. It troubles us to realize that we have a problem that we are not able to solve. In firefighting, we train, read, exercise and discipline our lives so that when we face adversity we are ready. We have thousands of hours spent on perfecting or learning our craft. How many hours have you invested in being a better husband or wife?

We need to be putting our house in order: God, our spouse, our children, family, friends etc. Identifying our problems early on and taking ownership of your part in it shows that you are not trying to blame your spouse. By coming to the one you love in humility and brokenness shows that you truly love them. This shows that you care more about the relationship than more about who is right or wrong. “Confession is the first step in repair and often the most difficult. Without confession, forgiveness is impossible” (Big Ideas of the Bible by Mark Fackler). In my life, I always say: “I can right or I can be happy”.  Being right is far less important to me that showing my wife that I love her more than life itself.

I look back at our wedding day where we stood before God and many witnesses and remember the promise that we made. Do we take that promise lightly? Do we lessen the value of our commitment when our spouse has wronged us and refuses to change? In the book “The power of a praying husband” Stormie Omartian states “But God spoke to my heart, saying, It is not a matter of who needs to change, it is a matter of who is willing to change. If you’re willing to change, I (God) can work through you right now.”(pg.22)



Calling the May-Day

May-Day: You are in trouble. Your marriage has collapsed. Your spouse is leaving or has left you. Now what?

Call for help! James 4:2 states “You have not because you ask not”.  Our pride is often our biggest enemy. We believe that we can do anything. After all, people call us to solve their problems right? This can be a detriment to your marriage. Call upon God, humble yourself and ask for help. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Reach out to your brothers/sisters in the fire service. I find it appalling that we will lay down our lives for complete strangers but yet we will not confide in one another when we are hurting. I know that many of us have fallen victim to confiding in someone only to find out that they betrayed our trust. When you are hurting don’t put up a false front. Those who know you best will see through it quickly and if you don’t confess it to them you may find your situation worsening.

Humble yourself and realize that your marriage is more important than another’s opinion. If you are a firefighter who is pinned down and needs help, you do not care who helps you as long as help comes and comes quickly. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) My coworkers and I believe that it is better to have abundant resources than having to wait for the cavalry. In other words, “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it.” The body of Christ is all around you and if you call His name He will be there.

Additional Resources: Many churches offer marital counseling, divorce care, and other marriage ministries to help those in need. As in the fire service if you think you are in trouble you probably are: Call the May Day! Don’t let your pride get in the way of losing your spouse and your children.

Rapid Intervention Teams: You have called for help and are awaiting the cavalry. Sadly, not everyone’s relationships will be reconciled. As in RIT scenarios not all firefighters are rescued successfully.  The most common similarities in fire ground Line of Duty Deaths after a May Day has been transmitted were: lack of fire ground accountability, no hose line protection, and poor communication.

Marriage Accountability:

In marriage, if we are not growing closer together we are probably drifting apart. Understanding the need to constantly invest in your marriage helps to put our priorities in order. Your marriage takes maintenance. As a couple, you need to be investing in each other through prayer, date nights, family time, marriage ministries (such as Focus on the Family’s weekend to remember marriage conference) and taking the time to help each other grow closer as you further your relationship with God.

No protection:

If we step outside of our marriage in areas that could be viewed as inappropriate we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Some signs of being unprotected are:

If you spend more time with your buddies than you do with your spouse(Warning!)

If you find yourself confiding in marital matters, consistently, with another person who is not your spouse (Warning!)

If you have a habit that takes precedence or priority over your spouse or family (Warning!)

Many husbands and wives suffer divorce due to infidelity/adultery. But the common misconception is that it is due to a physical affair. If you are married and you allow the devil to get a foot hold in your life do not be surprised when the divorce papers arrive. Pornography, alcohol abuse, addiction, job lust (loving your job more than your spouse), activities that consume your time so you cannot spend time with your family (these can be good activities as well), and anything that you allow to take precedence over your relationship with God and your wife will ultimately drive a wedge between you.

Poor communication:

I heard a marriage counselor state that most people learn how to “not talk to each other” by getting married. He went on to say, walk into any restaurant and you can immediately tell who most of the married couples are. They are the ones sitting there silently or eating and not paying any attention to each other. 

On the fire ground communication is critical. Without good communication, someone’s life may be lost. The same goes for our marriage, without good communication and the willingness to talk to each other (lovingly) we are already headed for a disaster. Take the time to talk with your spouse. Listen empathically, this means that you really care what he/she is saying, and be engaged which in my case means: put down the phone, stop doing what you are doing, and listen to your spouse by looking at them directly.

Marital LUNAR:

My purpose in writing this is not to offend or hurt anyone but to help. A firefighter who transmits a May Day sends out information based on the LUNAR acronym. It provides those who are coming to save them with critical information.  Calling your LUNAR in a Marriage May Day could be seen as this:

Lost: My location in my marriage has become uncertain and I need RIT (Redemption Intervention Team) I will submit and follow my GPS (God’s Plan for Salvation).

Understanding: Verbalizing to your spouse that you understand the seriousness of the situation. Confess your brokenness, take ownership of your part of the relationship, and in true humility show your spouse that your greatest concern is for the restoration & renewal of your marriage.

Name your problem: Look at your situation and take a step back. Where did your troubles really begin? What was the “slow fade” that caused your relationship to crumble? True reconciliation will only occur if you understand what brought you to this point in the first place.

Assignment: You now know the seriousness of your situation, you have admitted you have a problem, you have named it, and now it’s time to take action. Step forward in faith with your spouse and begin working on the problem(s).  This will be uncomfortable but necessary.

Reconciliation: The goal in calling the marriage May Day is not to rescue you from your current circumstances but to reconcile your hurts, wrongs, and lack of trust so that your marriage can begin a new as Christ has redeemed you. Let Christ dwell in your heart and focus on His will. His Holy Spirit will guide, teach, and admonish you along the way. Understand that this can be a slow and long process. Your relationship, most likely, did not fall apart over night; so don’t expect your spouse to jump right into the relationship like nothing happened. Something did happen! Now, take this set of difficult circumstances and use it to make your relationship stronger. But remember, you must take each step slowly. Your spouse needs to trust you again their trust has to be earned.


I see a tremendous need in our profession for marriage ministry and counseling daily. If you are as aware of this as I am, I challenge you to do something truly heroic: Be there for your brother, listen to them, guide them, and don’t let them travel down a road that could lead to harm. You swore an oath to protect lives and property. This oath should begin by protecting your family and your co-workers around you. Don’t turn a blind eye to their problem and use their plight as gossip material later.  Step up to the challenge and show them that you truly care. Let’s save ourselves so we can continue the greatest tradition the fire service has to offer which is that of Sacrifice:  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Sacrifice your time, your energy, your pride and help one another.

Stay Safe & God Bless

Andy J. Starnes


Isaiah 65:24