Part of taking the job as a firefighter is due to the love of responding to emergencies. It’s in our blood to be the first people to be there for a complete stranger when they’re having the worst day of their life. For some, it may be the adrenaline rush we feel when the bell goes off or it may be the thought of being able to protect people from harm’s way, but one thing is for certain. We can all fall victim to burnout. How do we know when we’ve hit that point? How do we know when our crew has hit that point?
Even though we all love what we do as firefighters, it can take a toll on us not just physically, but even the most important part, mentally. From a physical standpoint, it can be the number of alarms in a given time frame that wears us out, and from a mental standpoint, it may be the uglier side of our job that starts to bog us down. A lot of this depends on which areas we serve and what type of firefighting we do. It’s not just the calls either, it’s also the training and other events we take on as well.
From a personal standpoint, you’ll know when you’re starting to burn out. You might feel extra tired or it might be something you saw that you can’t seem to get out of your mind. When you’re feeling this way, it’s in your best interest to talk with a superior officer and let them know how you’re feeling. If you don’t, you’re just going to add on to the strain you’re already feeling and the alarms are still going to come through. It’s important to make sure you’re operating at your very best, not just for you, but for the sake of the other firefighters you work with.
From an officer standpoint, you need to look out for your crew and you need to develop the ability to see when your members are beginning to burn out. What makes this tough is that not everyone is going to come to you and tell you that they’re burning out. Some of the reasons may be that; they don’t want to seem like they’re being lazy, they think that it’s all in their head, they don’t want others to look down on them, etc. Why this poses a problem is because as firefighters we work as a team. If one teammate fails, it falls on the others. Again, we’re not talking about sports teams here, we’re talking about life or death situations that we willingly expose ourselves to.
Some things to look out for are changes in their behavior, overall performance, whether at alarms or drills, or simply making judgements based on conversation. This doesn’t mean you need to be on top of everyone all the time, it just means being aware of how your guys act normally and noticing a change in their pattern.
Luckily, as time goes on, there are more resources than ever to help out a person if they’re having a tough time with mental burnout. When it comes to physical burnout, you as the officer can make a decision on how to handle it. Maybe you can put a person in a different assignment for the day or maybe go with a drill that’s a lot less labor intensive. The goal here is to make sure each member of your crew operates to the best of their ability so that as a unit, they operate that way as well. On the other hand, you need to make sure that you’re not catering to lazy people either. When giving them mental or physical breaks, be sure that you’re not going overboard with it, otherwise some might take advantage of it.
If you see someone experiencing burnout, talk to them about it and see which avenues you can go to help them out. Every fire department has resources to help those in need. Feel free to utilize them how you see fit. Remember, it’s not just your crew that can experience burnout. You can too. All in all, our job is to take care of those in need and get back safely to our families, but taking care of each other first is always a top priority.
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