It’s incredibly difficult to know how you might respond when faced with a life or death situation, or when dealing with the aftermath of a heart-breaking tragedy. Although firefighters are trained to provide a professional response in a huge range of different eventualities there will still be unpredictable, unprecedented or downright harrowing events that will remain with the most experienced personnel for some time afterwards.
So can you truly know whether you will be able to deal with these sort of things calmly and with focus? How can you know whether you will be able to manage your emotions, or if the sheer scale of the impacts will psychologically knock you off your feet?
Here are some indicators that may provide you with some insights.
Do you take things personally?
A key skill for a firefighter is being able to control their emotions, or be emotionally resilient. So if you’re someone who gets very angry when provoked, or sees personal slights where others may not, this may be something you need to put some work into.
Action: If you’re not sure emotional control is in your skillset you can make a good start by trying to be more controlled. Having awareness of what you are feeling and why you might be reacting that way does help, rather than just going from ‘stimulus’ to ‘reaction’ without any thought processes in between.
Can you compartmentalise?
We’ve all heard about this, the ability to put the events of a troubling day behind us rather than letting it play on our minds and losing us sleep. It can be tempting to dwell on what if’s and reasons why, but sometimes all you can do is accept the reality of the situation and put it in a mental ‘box’. Some people find this easier than others.
Action: Stop yourself from dwelling on negative thoughts and memories by noticing when you are letting them replay in your mind. Make a firm internal statement to ‘stop’ and every time you catch yourself doing it, repeat it. It can also help to link the mental ‘stop’ to a discrete physical action, such as pressing the tip of a finger and thumb together firmly. Eventually, you’ll be able to distract yourself from your negative thought just by doing that action.
Can you talk about how you feel?
Although there is a place for putting traumatic experiences behind you, it is often helpful to talk it through first. Sharing what you went through can release some of the emotional content of difficult memories so they are less likely to come back and bother you at a later date.
Action: Get into the habit of talking through any strong emotions you have, even if it doesn’t feel that comfortable to start with. Make yourself available to listen to others who also may need to let off some steam. Find someone you can trust to share your vulnerabilities with and make sure you are a non-judgemental and supportive ear for others.
Resilience is something that comes easier to some than others, but it is something that we can improve if we give it the right sort of intention. It will never be easy dealing with unexpected and tragic situations but for Firefighters it is part of the role. You can learn to protect yourself and support your team and hope that you don’t have to draw on these skills too often.