Firefighting is unique in the way it shapes the individuals who do the job; from safety to friendships to hypervigilance.
Taking a proactive approach to these challenges is a vital part of staying mentally well on the frontline. People who are attracted to firefighting as a career are generally community-minded, action-oriented and love the challenge that comes with the unpredictability of each day. Over the course of their careers, firefighters form strong bonds of friendship, solidarity and trust leading to a sense of belonging to a ‘family’, particularly in regards to protecting each other and staying safe on the job. Partners feel this too, reporting that when they are with a firefighter, they not only join both the responder’s family, but the extended family of the fire department also, which can be a protective factor during times of stress or crisis.
The job of a firefighter exposes them to a different view of the world. To be a good firefighter, responders are taught to remain in control of their emotions always and this can potentially be interpreted as a lack of empathy within relationships. These are personality traits that are often referred to as ‘work mode’, and the research indicates responders often have trouble switching between their work and home modes after a shift.
Ultimately, personal relationships of any dynamic require communication and cooperation to function effectively. It is essential fire fighters find ways to balance these work and home modes to ensure effective communication and support in their relationships. The challenge is shifting the mindset from one to the other at the end of a shift.
There are several key coping skills that can assist responders and their families in achieving a work life balance, from physical exercise through to social and practical support, particularly with friends and family outside the department and focusing on the positive aspects of the job such as work camaraderie and pride.
For the newbies, fighting your first fire, or attending your first accident can be powerful, exciting, confronting and above all, real. Whilst those first days on the job may be exciting for the responders, it can be quite daunting. For some, this may be the first exposure to shift work and overtime while simultaneously having to adjust and settle into a new location. Responders and their families report this time can be a baptism by fire, full of changes and new experiences that can happen in a frontline relationship.
Article thanks to Alongside, who hold a shared interest in supporting the health and wellbeing of the emergency services community.