DAY 52 - FIREFIGHTER SELF AWARENESS

January 27, 2010:

In much of our training, we’ve discussed the importance of “situational awareness:" knowing what’s going on around you, monitoring the changing conditions of a burning building, “reading the smoke” to determine what is happening and what will likely happen next, knowing where your teammates are, anticipating the needs of an incident, and formulating action plans for a variety of emergency situations. Today, however, we focused on individual firefighter “needs” and maintaining an awareness of what’s going on inside our heads and our bodies, and how to seek help for situations that impact our health, emotions, and wellbeing. I've called it "a mental size up" in other correspondence: mentally assessing yourself and asking, "how am I really doing?"
 
Class lectures and guest speakers today helped us make those "mental size ups," and provided us some great resources for making a personal action plan to address the mental, emotional, and physical challenges we'll face as Firefighters. We received information on the Employee Assistance Program, the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing process, Nutrition, and MAYDAY procedures.
 
The sessions about Employee Assistance Program (EAP) were very helpful. I did not know that our HealthPartners EAP provided financial and legal assistance to firefighters as well as the more traditional help with emotional/social/communications issues. I also never realized that EAP provides assistance to spouses and family members as well. The EAP counselors who came to talk to our class were very informative and helpful.
 
There is no doubt that Firefighters are exposed to some very graphic and tragic incidents, and they are called to help people who are suffering the most devastating traumas of life: death of a loving spouse, suicide, rape, child abuse, violent crime, tragic accidents, and other events that occur on a frequent basis. Individual incidents can have a haunting and lasting impact on a Firefighter’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Even less graphic incidents can “build up” emotional stress for emergency responders – stress is often both cumulative and chronic in nature. Several guest speakers gave our class some personal insights into critical incidents and the resulting emotional stress those incidents continue to have on their lives. We discussed the defusing and peer counseling services available from the Metro Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.
 
We also discussed the importance of exercise and healthy nutrition. Throughout this academy we’ve been shown the importance of physical training, but up until now we haven’t discussed the nutrition side too much. Today a Dietician from HealthPartners, Julie, came in and discussed the new federal nutritional guidelines. Check them out at : http://mypyramid.gov
 
Julie’s presentation was very informative and interesting, and matched many of the discoveries I had made “on my own” during my recent experience with dieting and “calorie counting.” I did not find it surprising, for example, to learn that it takes about 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to help prevent chronic disease, 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise to maintain a healthy body weight, and 60-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day to lose weight. Julie discussed ways to quickly assess 100 calorie portions, how to chose healthier foods, and dietary approaches to stop hypertension.
 
Captain Deno presented a lecture of “MAYDAY” procedures: emergency radio messages we send if we’re lost, disoriented, low on air, trapped, can’t find our way out of a building, and other life-threatening emergencies. We discussed both the situations that should prompt us to call a MAYDAY, and the radio format for making such a call. One format follows the acronym U-CAN! First, identify YOU – who you are and what fire company you’re assigned to. C – CONDITION – what is prompting the MAYDAY situation? (I’m on the third floor in the hallway and have been trapped by a falling ceiling; my legs are pinned and I can’t get free). A – ACTION – what am I doing to alleviate the situation myself? (I’m turning on my PASS device, shining my flashlight on the ceiling, and thumping on the floor with my axe). (These, by the way, are all actions taken so that the Rapid Intervention Team can more quickly find the trapped firefighter). Finally, N- NEEDS - what do you need from the other firefighters so they can help you?
 
After a quick lunch, we were visited by the A-Shift Deputy Chief, Dennis Appleton. Chief Appleton spoke about teamwork, the importance of making a good first impression “on the streets,” LISTENING to experienced veterans, and remembering “what you learned from the book.” He told us to be humble, and to remember that citizens and other firefighters will be judging us – and our department – by our actions. He put it quite eloquently: “You have a name on the back of your jacket. That name MEANS something – don’t do anything to discredit that name!”
 
The rest of the day was spent on preparing for and reviewing material in preparation for tomorrow’s State Firefighter II certification test. About half the class has taken it already; about half the class will take it tomorrow. The state test includes both a practical portion and a written exam; they make up two of our academy’s four remaining examinations. I’m really not “sweating” the State certification test too much. I’ve studied every chapter in the book at least twice, and the practical portions have been thoroughly reviewed and tested in our academy training already. I’ll go for a good night’s and a final “brush up” of the textbook in the morning....
 
Tim

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