Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, take a seat, let’s chat. Summer is upon us and who knows what kind of brush fire season we’re facing, so I’m hoping to get your attention before you get deployed or head out of town on vacation.
In case you hadn’t noticed, our call load has increased. No joke! With most of that being EMS, which can often be a bit messy, and with the record brush seasons we’ve been having lately, I was thinking . . . you must be tired. Is that true?
First responder is a high demand, high stress profession . . . right? On top of that, it seems that everyone’s personal life gets more complicated by the minute. So, how are YOU doing?
I’m sure there’s a lot on your plate. On a scale of zero to 10, zero being the worst day ever and 10 being the closest thing to heaven, where do you fall? Think about it, in your last segment or last 72 or 96, how many calls did you respond to? How many after midnight? Any fatalities, full arrests, traffics, or drownings? Any situations with a bad outcome? Did any of this interrupt you while prepping for a drill, getting ready for inspection, mentoring the new rookie, cooking a meal, or changing over at 3:00 am? That all goes in the column marked “professional” stress.
Can we talk personal? What about those life challenges you’ve been carrying with you to the firehouse. How’s the home life? Having trouble paying the bills? How about the kids? How’s that son or daughter doing these days? You know, the ones between the ages of 12 and 21 . . . going on 30! Or, maybe you have a child with special needs? Are you caring for an elderly parent or grandparent? How about an in-law? Are you living with chronic physical pain yourself? Are you waiting for that promotion, sitting on the pot, getting ready for that interview, thinking that this is your last chance to make it? As the main or sole breadwinner is this that opportunity you’ve been praying for, hoping to get ahead financially? Oh, by the way, how’s things with your spouse or significant other? This is all in the column identified as “personal” stress.
If you combine “professional” with “personal” stress, they can easily wear you down and drain your capacity to cope. But you’re a “helper” with the tendency to “give” to others until you drop. Well think about it. Is your metric for personal “health” just being able to get up and drive to work? If you’re able to make it in to work and do your job, is that sufficient reason for you to tell others, “I’m fine?” If that’s your current lifestyle, your desire to help others just might be . . your greatest weakness! Living life with your emotional, physical, psychological meters pegged is self-destructive. It’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for you, your family, your coworkers and eventually even the public will suffer . . . so let’s not go there. The good news is that help is on the way . . . or at least ready and available!
I’m hoping to sound the self “awareness” alarm. Self-awareness says we all have a need to establish safe boundaries. Change is in the air. I’m not saying quit, or cut corners at all. You were made for this profession. You earned and wear the badge and uniform with pride. You’re trained and available, good for you. But by asking for and allowing others to help you, you should be able to do what you love better and enjoy life more. We want you to be healthy while doing what you love. I’m preaching awareness and hoping you might consider establishing some safe boundaries, and if necessary, reach out for support. I’m hoping to remind you that we have in-house resources available. In round numbers, there’s well over one hundred people at the ready to come along side you and your need. We are asking you to allow us to share in your need and or pain. Bottom line is – you don’t have to go it alone.
Supervisors, please make time to know your crew. Coworkers, ask questions of your teammates. Everyone active or retired, make the decision now to call for help if you need it – it’s okay. And if you see something in someone else, say something.
I’d like to challenge all of us to perform a personal inventory. Sit down with someone who knows you well, a member of the peer support cadre, or one of the department psychologists, and review your lifestyle. Consider not just your lifestyle but the speed at which you’re living. Why not decide to work less and play (sensibly) more? Spend time with loved ones and friends now, don’t bank on tomorrow. Walk, hike, bike, fish, camp, surf, nap (one of my favorites), climb, skate, exercise, cook, read a good book, and . . . don’t forget the good book: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
You are loved. We are ready to help find solutions to your specific need. Believe me, there’s hope.
Peer Support Roster (all contacts are confidential)
• Chaplains – Rick Godinez (213) 797-2404 or MFC floor Captain (213) 576-8920
• Dr. Krystle Madrid, Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health (213) 718-0768
• Audrey Martinez, Ph.D, Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health (213) 435-3996
• Dr. Steven. Froehlich, Ph.D, Psychologist UFLAC Local 112 (818) 645-9027
• Nancy Mraz, CEAP, UFLAC Local 112 (213) 598-8794
• Valerie Lawrence, LAFRA Family Support Group (323) 259-0996
By Chaplain George Negrete