Father playing with son

Emergency Service Responders: a Families Guide

Shift work, overtime and missing events are unavoidable aspects of emergency services work for firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, water search and rescue, and state emergency services.

When an emergency presents itself, or your partner is on afternoon or night shift, you may feel a bit like ships in the night. There may be days where you only see each other when one of you is half asleep and it is possible that some days they may not see the kids at all. 

Accepting the fact that the responder will miss special events like Christmas, recognising the responder may be feeling out of the loop with what is happening at home and that both responders and partners may at times feel lonely will go a long way in reducing the conflict that can occur around these days.

Good organisation is essential to handling shift work. Every partnership works a little differently in the way they manage their lives. Some use calendars on their smartphones, some use a whiteboard on the fridge and some use a good old-fashioned diary. The method is unimportant if it feels natural to your family.

Some top tips for family support

  • If your partner is coming in from afternoons or night shift, make sure you leave a light on.
  • Leave a note for your partner or a drawing from the kids to help them feel connected.
  • Make sure there is an even allocation of household tasks so everyone knows what their responsibilities are.
  • Take advantage of the spare daytime hours shift work can bring. Depending on the finish time, you may be able to eat breakfast together before you head to work and they head to bed. Get creative with looking at where time exists – it might not look orthodox, but there is nothing wrong with catching up at breakfast rather than dinner!
  • Keep eating and meal times the same, regardless of shift. While the idea of having cereal and then going to bed may seem odd, it is really important shift workers maintain routines with their meals. It prevents fatigue and keeps the body well nourished.
  • Maintain a calendar of shifts, rosters, appointments and events.
  • Set time aside to plan the week ahead together and make sure you schedule in couple time.
  • Plan the main Christmas meal around the shift your responder is on.
  • Start a new tradition, breakfast or lunch on New Year’s Eve for family and friends, or even just your family. Getting together with other emergency service families is a wonderful way to build a sense of community and belonging – a great way to start a new year.

Article supplied by Alongside, who hold a shared interest in supporting the health and wellbeing of the emergency services community.