Saturday, March 27, 2010

Time to Get Out of the Service

This blog will ponder that issue that faces every firefighter or EMT when we ask ourselves “Is it time to get out of the service?”

I get frustrated when the discussion boards lack discussion; meaningful discussion, that is. Oh; there is the same old chatter from the squirrels, but the good information that is coming out in a host of blogs…if they are getting read, they certainly aren’t being discussed to any great degree.

Are we THAT busy in our lives that we can’t take a moment and check in to see what’s shakin’ in our little world of the fire service? Then, if we have a few minutes but don’t take the time, are we disconnected or disinterested?

In case you didn’t know, the winds of discontent are blowing…or sucking, depending on your perspective.

As I learned from listening to a recent podcast on, our people in fire/EMS are not all that happy and in some cases are getting burnt out and burn out leads to GETTING out.

We cannot afford to let that happen, so what do we do?

Bear with me as I share my thoughts with you. Maybe you should go and get that beverage now.

Where is it written that WE must shoulder the weight of the world just because we want to help our communities in their times of need?

Who says that we have to internalize and otherwise hide/mask all of the ugly junk that we see that defies any plausible explanation or description?

Why do we continue to believe that, if we don’t do it, no one else will? Can’t you feel the sheer desperation of having no alternatives that effectively forces someone to commit?

And finally; why do we watch our brothers and sisters succumb to the pressures of giving our best efforts, failing to change the outcome and believing that it’s failure nonetheless?

Well, I am here to tell you that you lost touch with reality on the day that you thought your fire certifications and EMT licenses was going to fix everything!

We continue to set the bar high which, in and of itself is a good thing, but when we don’t have a net to catch the ones who barely miss reaching the bar, we set ourselves up to fail. We must keep everyone engaged, improve our leadership, training and expand the knowledge base in everyone who chooses to be a firefighter/EMT.

Besides; what are we really measuring our success against anyway?

From cheating death?

From cheating all of those external forces that we cannot control, but manage to survive in while it kills others and taking our guilt from it with us?

And along with that guilt, a sense of failure that washes over us with such pervasive force that we forget our love for what we do?

We become so emotionally invested with every, single incident-we become so singular of purpose-that we let the outcome define us going forward. Each time a building falls or a patient dies, a little bit more of our desire to do the job leaves us until we have no more desire to do it.

We should not measure ourselves and what we do by the outcome of one incident. Instead, we should look at incidents-one by one-as lessons learned, pay compliments to those involved, share a light moment and get ready for the next one, because, in the end; it is the volume of work and we are adding the chapters; some bad, but many that are good or even great.

We hear a lot about pain thresholds. How much pain can we take before it becomes too much?

And though it largely refers to physical pain, I have to believe that the same holds true for mental pain.

I know someone who used a staple gun to pierce their ear and laughed about it as they did it, but when they saw the blood, they immediately passed out!

On the other side, I have friends who will go to the emergency room if they get a bug in their eye, but can deal with the most complex, multi-agency response incidents that I have seen. So, one type of pain threshold isn’t necessarily indicative of the other.

As we know, firefighters need both mental and physical toughness to weather the beatings that we will take from an incident. We have to take something positive from EVERY incident. There ARE positives even if there is a negative outcome and we have to talk it to that point where we all agree that, had we not been there, the situation would have been worse, regardless of the outcome.

Veteran firefighters hold the secrets to their longevity of service. They could be invaluable to the ones who are struggling with the emotional aspects of a call. Veterans could take the broken pieces of someone’s spirit and help to put it back together, if only they were asked.

See; veterans know the protocol. Veterans won’t invite themselves to the party. Veterans don’t take shots at those who have just seen grotesquely mutilated metal and flesh. They remember their first few times and they know all too well that you have to process it. It’s something that you don’t joke about…until you have had time to get better, that is.

Veterans play a pivotal role in helping others process what they do, see and hear at an incident and especially if it is having a negative impact. Were it not for the veterans, our turnover rate in the fire service would be 100 percent plus. They remind us that each of us are uniquely different, but with similar stories and it’s the telling of those stories to each other that gets us back to our love for what we do!

I got by because I treated calls as if they fell somewhere between “I haven’t seen the worst one yet” to “I have seen worse”.

Roll that one around for a bit, but it makes perfect sense to me. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum, so every call will fit somewhere between them. That is how I managed to truly love every minute of my 22 active years of running calls. I have a couple of scrapbooks that I visit from time to time and I know that many of you have your scrapbooks in the memories of your minds.

Today, I have plenty to be concerned with. I am still active in making sure that our fire department is ready for emergencies.

Though I am dismayed by some of what I am reading about scumbags in the fire service, I take something positive away EVERY day; whether it is a story of a good save, a baby born on the way to the hospital, a near miss with a happy ending, a story on a friend’s promotion, an article from a friend’s keynote address, or a book written by an old friend from his Illinois days. That’s right; Illinois claims Chief Rick Lasky.

People in the service like Rick, Tiger, Dave, Gonzo, Rhett, John, Mick, Ted, Jason, Chris, Mike, Steve, CJ and many others help to keep my compass needle pointing in the right direction.

I will offer you this piece of advice: you will miss opportunities if the only times that you dream is when you sleep.

Take something positive from the job and end the day with good thoughts.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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  1. Right on, you are an inspiration, thankyou.

  2. This is the most unreadable article that I have read in a long time. What is your point. If your talking burn-out in the EMS field, you strayed far from it . This article makes no sense!!!

  3. Art I would like to thank you for your time, for one with this article it brings a grip back to the reason I joined the fire service 18 years ago. And I believe that it is the veterans of the fire service that keeps us going. The last 8 years I have been in the officers side of the fire service. And it is easy to get wrapped up in the polotics of it all. And that is where the largest mental battle has been, I would like to see a few poloticians step up to the plate and say, instead of cutting our fire service or laying personel off I am willing to take a pay cut to protect my constituents; That would be the start of caring for the community. But it is a new day and age where they want to base everything off that almighty (root of all evil) dollar. It seems like this day and age alot of people, (Not All ) are always concerned over the dollar, more than human kindness and caring for your neighbor. Or just helping someone in need. Us little people can make a difference in a small light, by helping people. But to change the views of the world it is going to take the changing of a lot people that are idolized or famous in other ways.We all know the fire service,a very expensive necessity, and the new mandates for training and new PPE's that are steadily arriving on the shelves is not cheap. My opinion they are worth every penny if it saves one life. So in short I would have to say when the majority of all people start respecting each other and start showing true compassion for people, over the dollar, that is when we will see the change, And for the second thing I want to thank you for servicing for the last 22 yrs and may you continue to serve another 22 with the same love for the job and commitment to the service . Thank You for the article Captain38

  4. Thank you for your insight! You have inspired me to look at things a little differently. I appreciate you taking time to share your thoughts.

  5. Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it for your viewers. I've heard is a good forum, even though it's new. Got some great sections there as well. Just a suggestion on a good forum. Thanks again for the insights.

  6. I wish after 13 years i didnt just burn out , my body just said NO MORE!!!!!
    My lungs are like a 72 year old mans, my kiddneys are going bad , my heart is going had too, i also have 2plates/4 screws,a rod and 2 pins in now... Were did my time go?
    Im heart broken now that i cant fight fire no more. Now that im retired were do i go next,what do i do with my self... Ancer SUPPORT MY BROTHERS & SISTERS in everyway that i can. Please remember the 343/on 9/11 & always remember to check floors,roofs and anyother area you mint fall throw!!!!! Thats why i have all theses inplants in my foot.
    So take it from me please at all coast be aleart at all times!!!! THANK YOU FF ROBERT M.

  7. jjvallee:
    Sorry it was confusing for you.
    My background is mostly fire, which was the focus of the blog.
    I mentioned EMS, because they suffer from many of the same issues.
    And there are firefighters who are also EMTs who may get a double dose.
    I'll try to make better sense next time.

  8. Good points all, and well made. The grizzled vets help the newbies process the unimaginable, which for me was always the kids. I can walk away from carnage involving adults and the jokes start almost as soon as the coast is clear of anyone outside the business, but anything involving kids stays forever. Sadly, as we age (51, 25 years in) the definition of kids seems to expand. Anyway, one of 2 points I'd try to make is that we are the ones that can and should take care of our people. I think must of us would agree that PTSD is real for us, and that each time we are traumatized, on or off-duty, the bad "slides" in our projector start rolling through all over again. The medical death of a friend, family member or fellow FF always brings the other stuff up, either quickly or sometimes longer term. That's why I have come to believe that though we have used many resources in the past, the only ones that can care for our people immediately after a PTS incident are the crew that was there. When outsiders get involved, personnel back away, and the debrief or intervention becomes a "them vs. us" interaction. I have seen this with occur with the debrief led by or observed by mental health professionals, clergy (even if F.D. related), law enforcement PTSD and military. The same goes for them when we try to debrief their incidents, we don't have the law enforcement or military perspective, so dealing with the initial debrief should not be done by our teams. All that said, I am strongly in favor of mental health professionals dealing with the long-term stuff, I just think much of it can be if not avoided, at least blunted by immediate debrief or discussion by the personnel involved at the scene, with trained and/or experienced personnel from their own department, shift or station. Ya gotta get it out on the table, so we all see it and talk about it, because what I saw and processed may not be the same as what you processed. We talk about it until it's sharp edge is dulled, then we keep an eye and an ear on each other for stuff that keeps coming back or coming up and for the lifestyle changes that go with it.
    My second log-winded thought is that as much as I loved doing the job as a FF, Paramedic, LT. and Captain, it all went to hell when I promoted to BC. Though I have stayed on shift and thought I had a handle on how demanding it would be, I see why people retire or request return to line rank. The demand placed on these personnel mean that the ones that have their personnel's best interest at the fore, get burned out within 5-7 years at that rank and have no desire to promote or continue in the career. At my Dept. we call our schedule the 48/40 because you work your 48, but come in off-duty (at OT) for the rest of the week to keep the wolves (OSHA, State EMS, Building Dept. whoever)from the door on paperwork and admin.or the dreaded personnel issue. This also applies to the distinct lack of personnel stepping up to the overhead level for the Type I or Type II incident teams. After being burned out at your own department, the desire to go manage a major incident and possibly be sued for a bad result doesn't appeal to me or any of my peers that I talk with. This often means that only certain character types have ambition for promotion. I wonder if that's best for the fire service. Thanks for letting me vent, be safe, take care of each other.

  9. You are quite correct Art about the Veteren Firefighters, they have been there and back. I have found with over 50 years of service one has to be pragmatic about his chosen field. I was both a Volunteer firefighter as well as a Career firefighter in a very metropolitan area around Philadelphia and learned early on about death and distruction, simply put it happens and one has to learn to put it in back of him or her. Being a firefighter is no different than being in the military, one cannot expect to be a member of either one of those professions without experiancing death. Then there are the good times with great outcomes and those we learn to cherish and remember. Yes, I remember my experiance with death as I was using a resuscitation mask on that old man in the 1949 ambulance and he passed away on me, no EMT's back than. I remember my first birth esperiance in that same ambulance and used see that man all the time in town. My career experiance was on the waterfront and longshoring is the second most hazardous profession after firefighting. Down there death and injuries ware inevitable but one has to take the attitude that it happens and learn to put it into the past afterall death is emminent for all of us. The Old Timers may seem cold about all of this but truly deep down they do feel remorse because they do miss the commaradie of their missing brothers but they do become pragmatic and do not dwell on it and have learned to live with the present and enjoy life and their profession.

  10. Thank you all very much for the feedback. Your insights are valuable to your departments and to the fire service. Your impact can still be felt and whether the younger ones know it or not, they are learning the things that will make them all veterans of the fire service as well.
    Tiger Schmittendorf has a blog dedicated to such stories.

  11. I knew it was time to retire , when i started falling down the hillsides in the middle of the night , during Wildfire brush season.. My 60 yo knees just could not do their job any longer... Ten years as a VOL.. firefighter , fourteen years as a nurse , and seventeen years as a EMT, I was always able to finish my job.. In all that time handling hundreds of patients , I never droped or injuryed any patients in my care .. I realized that if I could not protect myself any longer , than I should not chance hurting anybody else .. RETIREMENT was the only answer for me... I hope the insight helped someone make the right decision..

  12. ChiefOC:
    Let's look at the quote again: [quote]Though I am dismayed by some of what I am reading about scumbags in the fire service, I take something positive away EVERY day; whether it is a story of a good save, a baby born on the way to the hospital, a near miss with a happy ending, a story on a friend’s promotion, an article from a friend’s keynote address, or a book written by an old friend from his Illinois days. That’s right; Illinois claims Chief Rick Lasky.[end of quote]
    So, you keyed on my statement that I enjoy READING about the things cited in my quote, particularly a story of a successful (good) save, be it by rescue or EMS.
    I'd like to think that 30 years in the fire service would elevate above "amateur" status.
    But, you raised some very good points in your reply as well.
    Thank you.
    Stay safe.


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