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Behavior Health Is a Leadership Role

What exciting lives we lead. We participate in many events that other people only get to read about or watch in amazement on TV.

We see babies born and people die. Lives change in a matter of moments, sometimes for the better and other times for the worst. Whether we're a volunteer or paid firefighter, we have a great opportunity to help people in need.

Sometimes, though, that person may be the individual working right next to you.

We must realize that what we do takes a toll on us at some point—some more than others. It may not be obvious to that person or even to you in the beginning, but it's important for an organization's leaders to monitor their people at all times for changes in behavior.

Firefighters are placed in difficult situations from the very beginning. They have to leave family members for extended periods of time. This comes both with shift work and when responding to an emergency from home on a weekend. Missing birthdays, cookouts and other family events gets old not only to the firefighter but to the family as well. This puts extra pressure on family life, which in turn causes stress at work and home.

The events we respond to may play the biggest role. Firefighters have always been labeled as tough, strong and dependable; we carry that badge of honor with great pride and uphold that at all costs, losing many firefighters in the line of duty every year. We keep our emotions close and most of the time hidden from even our closest friends. We try to shield our families from the negative elements we encounter, sometimes leaving a horrific scene to go home and put on a cheerful face for our children.

Personal life events can be overwhelming for firefighters as well. Shift work has a long record of causing unwarranted stress on spouses and relationships that are sometimes hard to resolve. It's not unusual to find firefighters in their second marriage and have children from their first.

Divorce is a significant event in any individual's life, one that has an enormous impact on many elements that multiplies across many areas. Going through a divorce, trying to find a new place to live, attempting to keep a close relationship with children and the added financial burden can be devastating beyond belief. However, we still expect individuals in such situations to arrive to work and perform their jobs to the expectations detailed on their performance appraisals.

Company officers—those in charge of a crew of other firefighters—aren't exempt. Extra effort should be made to ensure they're prepared and currently able to fill these leadership roles. For those who can't currently do so, take careful measures to support them as they recover so they can fulfill or resume their responsibilities.

Chief officers must take the lead in ensuring their department members are truly prepared to perform their jobs both physically and mentally. It takes extra effort to train people to spot an issue and properly handle it without adding to an already difficult situation. Take time to prepare your organization's leaders on how to save your own: it's an inside job!

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