By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
For years firefighters and other first responders were told to “suck it up” and to go back to work after a critical incident. But guilt and doubt are natural reactions to such incidents and most of us would be better off if we talked about those feelings.–Andy Lyons, Writer, Producer, and Narrator
Andy Lyons produced and posted the following video on YouTube, and as you view it I ask that you pay close attention to when one of the firefighters speaks about how talking with his fellow firefighters back at the firehouse does more for him than sitting with a mental health professional asking him how he feels.
Did you catch that comment? If not, please go back and look for it again, OK?
If you did catch it, what was your first impression? (I’ll give you a moment to think about that).
OK, you’re back! So let me tell you my first impression and see how it matches up with yours. Mine was, “That’s a nice sentiment, but how true is it in too many firehouses across the U.S. and Canada?”
It seems like every day we see stories in print and on the Internet about misconduct in fire stations, misconduct like:
- Bullying (men and women being the target)
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual assault and rape
- Hazing and pranks “gone awry”
What impact does any of those types of misconduct have on the camaraderie in a firehouse?
And those are just some of the types of misconduct–and the ones that make the news or social media. What about all the internal strife that goes on in a hyper-charged, Alpha-male-dominated atmosphere in too many firehouse where all that matters is who’s “winning” today?
How does one of those Alpha males “open their soul” to their comrades who earlier in the day or the previous shift were “fighting” with them for dominance that day? How does a more introverted male or a woman or a male of color get the understanding ear that they seek as they try to deal with a particularly stressful incident or post-traumatic stress in general?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the concept of firefighters helping firefighters in dealing with the stressful incident that come with the job. I just don’t think that this is a reality in many firehouses today.