Preparation in the fire service has several meanings and connotations, from preparing gear to preparing a meal to preparing oneself for an upcoming promotion. As company officers, we need to not only train our crew members for a multitude of contingencies and ensure they're prepared for those contingencies; we must also ensure we're mentally prepared for the tasks ahead.
While checking gear, SCBA, medical equipment and medications are important and mandatory on a daily basis, ensuring your crew members are mentally prepared for the day is as important as the other tasks mentioned.
Many fire stations have weight rooms and treadmills that help us prepare physically for the job. How many of us can say we prepare ourselves mentally?
Repeated exposure to stressful and traumatic events takes a toll on all members of the fire service, regardless of rank. Unfortunately, these stressors aren't visible on the outside, as a physical injury is; they can remain hidden from view for years.
While NFPA 1500 (Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program) requires fire departments to provide a member-assistance program to ensure availability of professional counseling resources, the first steps of acknowledging a problem exists and asking for help continues to be the most difficult.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Program has developed a platform based on the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives geared towards reducing the number of preventable firefighter fatalities. Number 13 on the list, psychological support, delves into the oft-ignored world of depression and suicide among firefighters; it states, "Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support."
Recently more and more opportunities for training on this subject have been offered at the National Fire Academy and local state run academies, bringing what is often an uncomfortable subject into the forefront and recognizing that an unseen danger is lurking.
As company officers, we must not only assess our own wellbeing; we must also be on the front line advocating and looking out for the mental wellbeing of our members. The IAFC Company Officer Leadership Committee urges all officers and chief officers to seek out this information and educate themselves on the warning signs of behavioral issues and depression so we can ensure all our members go home safely.