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First Responders: Reigniting Your Personal Fire

ESO Staff

Firefighters, EMTs, and first responders start are used to giving their all to their jobs, whether they’re placing their own lives in danger to save a civilian, or arranging their whole lives around shift work and crazy schedules. This type of work often demands full commitment, and most joined up because of a passion for truly helping others in ways most people can’t.

Just like any career, however, the years and hours can begin to wear on you, taking a toll on your motivation, energy, and relationships. Left unchecked, an unequal “work/life balance” can take a toll on your body and your mind. So how do you ensure that a job you love doesn’t destroy all the other things in life you love as well?

At the 2019 ESO Wave conference, Captain Jason Hathcock of Fayetteville NC Fire/Emergency Management shared insights into this common struggle faced my many veteran first responders in his presentation, “Reigniting Your Internal Fire: Strategies to Fuel Your Leadership Tank.” Hathcock, who serves as Strategic Planning and Research Manager, explained that it’s vital to regularly take the time to check in with your priorities and wellbeing and ensure that you are taking care of yourself.

“We talk so often about how to make operations more efficient and communities safer, but one thing we don’t do so well is take care of ourselves,” Hathcock said. “Sometimes our tanks get depleted. We need to revisit what we’re doing and how we got there, because sometimes our priorities get out of whack and we need to reset.”

Priorities vs. Reality

Hathcock outlined several practical steps for a quick self-assessment, the first step making a list of your life’s priorities, and then ordering these priorities in a type of hierarchy. He explained this can help ensure that you are spending your time appropriately, with your most valued areas of life.

By looking at the number of hours spent on each priority, you can catch any misalignments that might be throwing off your work/life balance. Hathcock pointed out that, regardless of the ranking of your priorities, it’s important to realize that your personal life does affect your professional life, and vice versa.

“If something happened to you today, what would your obituary look like? Would it be true? What do you want to be remembered for most?” Hathcock asked. “Do you see yourself differently than others see you? It is your role in your fire station? Or is it more? When you see the gaps between your ideal priorities and your reality, you can take the steps to close those gaps.”

Being Honest With Yourself

Hathcock recalled his own experience of joining the fire service after watching a first responder care for his father in an emergency situation, and how that passion eventually was impacted by his fair share of burn-out and the need for self-assessment. As he advanced in his own career, he realized that often the burden of increasing responsibility can steal the joy and pride of the work, and that focusing too much on your professional life can be a detriment to your personal life.

“You need to be transparent with yourself, and be honest if you are overloaded; stress can really impact your productivity. It’s ok to say no and be cautious with the projects you engage in,” Hathcock said. “It’s also important to not disconnect the person you are at work with the person you are at home; don’t give your best only at work and have nothing left for anything else. Remember that families sacrifice a lot for their high-performing family members.”

Your Life as a Car

Hathcock used a car metaphor to illustrate the red flags or “warning lights” that you might see in your own career or personal life, that can be a sign you need to reevaluate how you are spending your time and energy. He asked the audience to consider whether or not their “Service Engine Soon” light was on, or if they are due for some “Preventative Maintenance.”

For example, maybe you’re having issues with your spark plugs (life is running rough) or maybe you need a radiator flush (you’re running too hot with words and actions). Perhaps you need a brake adjustment (you don’t slow down or stop when it’s needed) or you’re having issues with your timing belt (prematurely rushing to judgment on other people or the things they say). Maybe you need a transmission flush (your internal gears are shifting rough, going back and forth) or simply a headlight adjustment (changing how you see things).

“You must learn to be your own diagnostic code reader,” Hathcock explained. “Just like with a vehicle, regular maintenance helps to improve overall health and extended life.”

11 Tips to Start Implementing Today

Hathcock closed out his session with 11 tips for all first responders looking to adjust their priorities and find more balance between their professional and personal lives. He stressed the value of self-care and keeping a proper perspective and attitude, whether at work or at home

  1. Stop blending home and work together; sometimes you have to try hard to leave work at work.
  2. Stop trying to do everything. Prioritize!
  3. Disconnect sometimes. That same device that makes life easier (smart phone) can also lower your quality of life.
  4. Revitalize your personal goals.
  5. Preschedule mandatory family or friend nights.
  6. Stop trying to do EVERYTHING.
  7. You take care of others; don’t forget to take care of yourself.
  8. Limit your options; too many choices create confusion.
  9. Admit when you are procrastinating on your self-care; take that vacation!
  10. Maintain a sense of humor.
  11. Smile, smile, smile.

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