Several people of various ages and backgrounds gathered for three days last week in an ordinary hotel conference room to talk about the personal challenges that firefighters face today. But the week was anything but ordinary.
This was not your familiar conference where firefighters learn to force doors and drag other firefighters to safety. But it was a meeting of the minds, some very concerned people wanting to learn more about how to save our own in the firehouse, just like we do on the fireground.
The 2015 Federation of Fire Chaplains Conference began on the right note, literally. It opened with the Star Spangled Banner, sung beautifully by the entire room, creating an enthusiastic vibe that carried on throughout the week. Nothing compares with singing for bringing people together. We were no longer strangers, but a team of people with a strong desire to help others.
The energy continued with the high-powered, straight talk that included real-world advice from some fire chiefs, strong recommendations from health care professionals, spiritual guidance from chaplains, and personal stories from firefighters and their spouses. Here are a few of the take-a-ways:
- We help everyone. We never leave anyone behind.
- Who’s helping the firefighter families? We need to work together to better help our own; the mental health community, the chaplains, peer support teams, and the fire department administrators.
- Issues unique to firefighters are complex and we have to be ready for the moment when we can help. Sometimes, only firefighters can help firefighters.
- Get to know your people and connect with them. Don’t forget their families. One simple text or phone call from someone at the right time can help.
- What is the firefighter’s spouse exposed to when the firefighter comes home? How do we handle it? Have three hard conversations: re-entry time, harshness and hallows humor, and handling the rough runs.
- Tragedies touch everyone in a different way. Taking care of your own requires trust. Without it, you can lose others.
- Don’t wait for a tragedy to start a chaplaincy. Chaplains don’t work for the chief, they work for the members.
- The human heart is exquisitely fragile.
- Chaplains must grow other chaplains.
- Conversation is important. It’s all about emotional wellness.
We must become a team of teams
I had the honor to close out the conference and here’s some of my message:
Our world is dangerous and chaotic, both on the fireground and in the firehouse. We see the worse of it. All of our fire department members experience it at some level. We need new ways to lead and to work together. We need to break down the silos and work across divisions in the big firehouse, where the administrative chiefs work.
We have to build cohesive leadership teams, because the first step to a healthy fire department is to have the big firehouse working together.
We need to shift from efficient organizations to adaptable teams that are effective.
We must help our own. We must become a team of teams.
How does your fire department help it’s own?
Resources to help you help your own: