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Thread: Fight or flight instinct...a bad thing?

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    Forum Member vonirkinshtine's Avatar
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    Question Fight or flight instinct...a bad thing?

    During some training last night myself and our training officer got to talking about the "fight or flight" instinct on the fire ground. I was hoping to get some opinions from you guys who have been at this way longer than I have. Everyone has a fight or flight instinct my question is, as a firefighter, should you train yourself to suppress this instinct, or can it be beneficial if managed properly? Does "fight or flight" always mean that you've "lost your cool" and you're no longer able to think straight?


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    I think that with quality training and experience comes the minimization of the "fight or flight" response. I say "quality training" because too often basic FF 1&2 doesn't actually prepare firefighters for actual fireground conditions. NFPA 1403 doesn't allow for training in context for Collier's Mansion conditions, fires in multiple locations, tons of combustible contents, etc. This is why trying to establish absolutes of when to call a MAYDAY become unrealistic. More experienced firefighters will take a lot more to be rattled than those with less experience. Of course this cuts both ways, the new guy who calls the early MAYDAY may have a better chance at survival than the seasoned guy who waits too long... This is all a generalization of course as we cannot account for how each individuals brain will cause them to react day to day event to event.

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    """Does "fight or flight" always mean that you've "lost your cool" and you're no longer able to think straight"""

    would not say it in that context, more that you recognise you should not be in a situation and either decide to stay there or decide to remove yourself. while still thinking straight.



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    Forum Member FiremanLyman's Avatar
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    I read a book that called "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker, a guy that runs a private security company. The basis of the book was that REAL FEAR is a good thing, it clues you into a danger, even if you don't readily identify it. Once you recognize what is causing that fear you can deal with it; confront it, fix the issue, or escape from it. Also addresses irrational fears, those fears that come from your mind, not the physical stage set in front of you. Irrational fears are bad, because they become crippling, especially since there is not a physical thing causing them but they are concocted in your mind. Interesting concept.

    To the average person, a room and contents fire is a scary thing. The average public would see that physical danger indicator and the mind sends signals to fear it. A trained and experienced firefighter would see that in a different light (probably a fun playground), and react differently, no fear.

    When that same well trained and experienced firefighter senses fear, listen to the signals being sent from the subconscious. There is a reason your subconscious is fearing it, maybe before the higher level thinking lobes of the brain realize why something is to be feared. If your brain tells you to go into flight mode, follow it... it might be sending you a signal to get out before you realize that something is defiantly wrong. If you back out, assess the situation and figure out why you had that thought, it might save your life, or you might be able to reassess the situation, and attack the problem.

    Just my $.02 on the matter.
    johnsb likes this.
    ~Drew
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    MembersZone Subscriber tree68's Avatar
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    Came to the conclusion years ago that we fear what we don't know/understand.

    If a situation is essentially under control - if we know what's going on, and why, and what to expect, we don't fear it. We may respect it and treat it with due caution, but we don't fear it.

    Sometimes that confidence gets us in trouble, when we think we know what's going on, but really don't, so don't have the fear we should have...

    Kinda like meeting your girlfriend's father for the first time - you're scared sh.... - well, you're scared, until you find out it's someone you already know (but didn't realize the relationship) and aren't afraid of. Except for that part where you're now dating his daughter....
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

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    Forum Member vonirkinshtine's Avatar
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    Thanks for the input. FiremanLyman, you're 100% right about "experience". With time will come comfort. Well, maybe "comfort" isn't the right word...but awareness of your situation and surroundings.

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    Forum Member CdnFD24's Avatar
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    In my opinion you will never be able to completely dissolve the fight or slight instincts.

    For the fire service it would be most beneficial to learn how to recognize those instincts when they come into play and put them to appropriate use.

    In fight or flight instinct, your mind is recognizing a situation and is going into self preservation mode for one reason or another.

    Understanding why it's happening and either making use of the adrenalyn that typically follows (rapid egress, etc) or suppressing the instinct (naturally uncommon and uncomfortable environment such as entering a structure fire) to remain calm, would be some examples of putting the flight or flight to a use that benefits you in those situations.

    Neil
    "You see things and you ask, 'Why'? I dream of things that never were and I say, 'Why not'?

    "I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn't park anywhere near the place."

    "When you are kind to someone in trouble, you hope they'll remember and be kind to someone else. And it'll become like a wildfire."

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    Forum Member firefighter7136's Avatar
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    I completely agree that fear of the unknown is the biggest challenge we face. As far as fight or flight, we were given that response for a reason, and it shouldn't be ignored in a well informed situation. The response isn't always a dramatic response either. For someone like me with a fear of heights it enables me to climb a ladder to a second story window with a charged handline and not think twice. The one thing we need to learn to control is tunnel vision in both situations.

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