Submission - Scott McPherson
This week’s blog post comes as a submission from our buddy Scott. Scott works with a support group called Reboot Allianace. They offer support to combat veterans and all emergency personnel. If you’ve noticed on our Facebook, and Meetings section of our site, a group called Firstline has been added to the calendars so that we can be sure that everyone has the opportunity to see events happening around you. Scott did a great job of providing insight on how we can battle tough situations through building on resilience and confidence.
By Scott McPherson
Any time the tones drop and we roll out of the station, we are likely to encounter some form of traumatic event. Whether a car accident, serious illness or fire, as firefighters we are called to enter into some of the worst days of a person’s life. When we leave the scene, we often take with us reminders of the event. Our minds were built to function in the midst of danger with life preservation in mind, leaving the emotional processing of what we have seen and done to another, safer time.The cumulative weight of these experiences, or even one serious incident, can leave mental, emotional and spiritual wounds that effect every area of our lives. Preparation for life as a firefighter therefore involves both training and personal preparation for how to manage the stress that can come from trauma exposure.
Resiliency is the ability to repeatedly encounter life-threatening situations, effectively manage them to the best of your ability, and not take away long-term wounds yourself from the experience. This blog entry is intended to give you some ideas of ways you can become more resilient and ready to facetraumatic events:
Skills Training – Intense, structured and realistic training for actions on the fireground and other emergency situations is some of the best preparation we can do. Training builds muscle-memory, confidence, technical knowledge, and trust among team members as well as with leaders, all of which are needed to manage emergencies when they arise. The better we train, the better we can perform and the less stress we should face during and after the event.Ensure your leaders provide demanding training opportunities, and then participate as much as you can. Train the way you fight because you’ll fight the way you train.
Physical, Mental and Spiritual Training- To function at our highest, mind, body and spirit must all be healthy and in balance. For the body, that means attention to a focus on nutrition (none of us are perfect, but beware if most of your meals come out of a bag!), physical fitness and getting adequate,quality sleep. For the mind, concentration exercises like yoga and meditation can help provide calm, focus and sharpening. For spiritual fitness, consider joining and becoming active in a faith community. Encountering trauma first hand often brings to the surface questions about God and our relationship with Him,as well as good and evil. Being in community with otherswhom you know and trust and you can turn to with these questions can be a very valuable resource.Failure to train makes us at best a liability and at worst a threat to others in the middle of a crisis.
Reduce Stress – Stress is cumulative. If there are areas of your life outside the station that are out of balance it is like a cup that is filled almost to the brim: Added stress from the emotional impact of a traumatic event can cause the stress to spill over the edge. Taking action to address financial difficulties, marital struggles, or other relationships that are frayed can better prepare you for whatever the next shift might bring.
Build a Support Community- In the aftermath of a traumatic event, we all need a safe place to go to talk about what happened. Keeping it inside is one of the worst things you can do if you want to remain resilient. Who would you turn to at 3am if you were in a crisis? If you can’t think of who you would call, start a conscious process to find or develop a community of those who are safe, would understand and are willing to go into dark places with you if needed. A spouse or close friend may be the answer, but there can also be an inclination to try to insulate them from the worst aspects of the job, so fellow firefighters may be a better fit.
Recognize the Signs & Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries- Having a lasting response to a traumatic event is a natural and normal result of exposure to unnatural situations. Sometimes, we re-experience aspects of the trauma in nightmares and or have obsessive thoughts about the event. We may also find ourselves becoming easily irritated and quick to respond in anger to what seems minor later. Hyper-vigilance and inability to sleep are also common. In response, some turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to dull the pain, but they only make everything else worse. If you are or have been experiencing some of these things, GET HELP, especially if it has gone on for 30 days or more. Reach out to a teammate you trust. Talk to a counselor. You are not crazy, broken or alone –but you may have been wounded. Many others have been down this road before, and there is healing available if you walk with someone who knows how to help.
If you are in crisis or know someone who is, the Fire/EMS Helpline is available to help at 1-888-731-FIRE (3473). You’ll be connected to trained personnel who can help connect you to local resources, 24-7, and they are free and confidential.
Scott McPherson is affiliated with Reboot Alliance(www.rebootalliance.com), a non-profit that helps combat veterans and first responders to begin a healing journey from trauma. He served with the 82nd Airborne during Desert Storm, and is currently a member of the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department.