11 Ways To Deal With The War On First Responders

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11 Ways To Deal With The War On First Responders

When I first joined the fire department, I never thought I would be writing this article. Ever. I just never thought the world would be mad at firefighters. Things have gotten turned upside down so fast my head is spinning. It feels odd to try and give advice to first responders because law enforcement, firefighters and EMS are some of the most mentally tough individuals I have ever had the privilege to work with. We see a lot of things we shouldn’t and have to just keep moving on. And let me be clear here, I’m not trying to brag or tell war stories. That isn’t something I take lightly. I have been blessed with officers who weren’t held back by their pride and were quick to let you know that their door was always open.  In my experience, everyone says “I’m good” in front of the entire crew but slowly make their way into the office, talking about other things at first, but eventually saying what they need to. That mindset is about to be more important than ever. We need that understanding. We need that comradery. Bottom line is… first responders need each other right now.

I can only write from the perspective of a firefighter/paramedic so law enforcement, you’ll just have to bear with me. I’ll try to type slow so y’all can keep up (c’mon, we’ve got to keep laughing people). In all seriousness, I want to thank you guys in LE. As firefighters, we have gotten to be a little spoiled. We tend to be the good guy in most situations. They call, we show up, problem solved, end of story. This new anger that is aimed at us is something we’re not used to dealing with and frankly, many of us aren’t particularly good at it. LE has dealt with that anger FOR-EV-ER (Squints from The Sandlot voice) and we can learn a lot from your reactions (or lack thereof). No matter which of these professions you’re in, you are a first responder and every one of the following advice can be taken to your house and used to help get you through this mess. The best part about this list is it’s kind of like your kids’ Halloween candy…take what you like and leave what you don’t.

11 Ways To Deal With The War On First Responders

    1. Turn Off The News

When I walk in the firehouse and the news is on in the morning, I can physically see the mood change. It doesn’t have anything to do with which news channel or what they’re reporting. It’s the tone it sets. I don’t have to tell you that the media isn’t doing a great job of painting a sunshine and rainbows picture right now. They use buzz words and graphic pictures. When it’s on, I see conversations stop, heads start shaking and eyebrows furrow when the news anchor inevitably starts talking politics. Almost everyone in the room starts off on their own version of what the facts are and why the news is right/wrong/whatever. This tone stays with us for most of the day. We just can’t seem to shake it! I have done a lot of experiments with the morning channel and the results all point to watching almost anything else is better for the attitudes of the station than the news. I even put Bubble Guppies on one day just to see. If you have kids you already know what that is but if you don’t give it a Google search. It’s about as kiddy as you can get. And you know what…they laughed and started talking about their kids. I loved it! The Outdoor Channel…same thing. Every good hunting and fishing story that had ever (possibly) happened. And my personal favorite…Ridiculousness! It stays on all day and no one can walk through the room without laughing. That’s what I’m all about! If you like the news but want to stay away from the politics and negativity here are a few positive news sites: Some Good News, Positive News, Good News Network
You become what you take in so choose wisely.

    1. Don’t Be Your Dad

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up there was a long list of things we didn’t talk about at the table with my dad.  My little brother had a gift for covering at least 3 of those subjects every night and the sparks would fly! That has always been the norm for my family. There are some topics you just don’t talk about because people get mad. But that shouldn’t be the way we do things now. We SHOULD be talking about some of these difficult topics. Openly and honestly. The trick is in how you approach it. It shouldn’t be a debate or an argument and volume should have zero to do with who is being heard. Let your guard down a little. It isn’t a sin to listen to another point of view or say the words “I don’t know.” In fact, they can be signs of strength! Admitting that you don’t have all the answers is the first step in being honest with yourself. If someone does something on scene that you’re not a fan of talk to them about it! As a first responder, your life depends on your crew so hopefully an open dialogue and a little constructive criticism can be handled. Know this though, if you’re going to dish it out you better be able to take it too. Disagreeing and having a discussion calmly doesn’t make you weak. Think about some of the things you wanted to talk about with your dad but were too afraid to. We probably all have a few. Let’s make those the first ones we fix with our families (work and at home). The biggest thing is to make sure your crew and family feel that they can come to you when they need to. And that means about anything. Racism, religion, sex and morals should be things they can come to you about. Fact is if they aren’t coming to you, they’re going to someone else and you may not like the advice they’re giving. Talk to your kids about why people are so angry right now. Try to have an honest conversation and do your best to not pass on the anger you’re feeling. Our kids tend to react the way we do so a chance to make a difference.

    1. Be The Lightning Rod

Everybody needs a lightning rod. Mine is my mom.  Almost everyone can name who their lightning rod is but the real question is…who are you the lightning rod for? You might be thinking about your wife, husband, kids or friends but the fact of the matter is many of the people we deal with on scene don’t have that person in their life and they’re boiling over with no way to turn the heat off. We’ve all dealt with the patient that couldn’t stop talking, the one that cried the entire trip and the super angry one. Sometimes I find myself attempting to be the emotionless one because I’m annoyed and I’m in a position of authority. That’s the opposite of what should be done. Sometimes being a first responder can suck the empathy right out of us. We see so much nonsense. Don’t let it. You can learn something from every patient, and you can become better at your job even if the emergency isn’t really that emergent.

Right now, there is a tidal wave of anger out there. The toughest part is most of us are doing our job well but we’re getting lumped in with those that aren’t. I want to stress this: A lot of the angry people aren’t mad at you for a reason. They are riding the wave. There’s anger towards you at their house, with their friends and just about everywhere they look. We happen to be the target right now and you know what, we can ride out the storm. One thing I learned when I was teaching high school was fighting aggression with aggression doesn’t seem to work out very often. If your pride tries to convince you otherwise you may just get to see who can bang their head against the wall the longest. We’ve always been taught adapt and overcome, well, it’s time to do that. This is not the time to be a spark, it’s time to be a lightning rod.

    1. Lean On Each Other

No one understands your job like other first responders. Sometimes I catch myself telling my wife about her job by saying, “You need to tell them…” but the reality is I don’t understand the inner workings of her job. I don’t know all of the dynamics and relationships. But you know who does and usually offers better work advice than I do…her coworkers. Just like you should lean on your crew for perseverance in the weight room (and to help you, Save 25% OFF First Warrior Box! on us) and lean on them for patience. I’ve been 13 runs in and having the worst night ever and when my partner started laughing and so did I. You can’t change the hate right now, but you can change how you let it affect you. Please don’t take any of this to say you should be scared or weak. There are still lines in the sand and once someone crosses them it’s go time! Just remember, sticks and stones my friends, sticks and stones. Or rubber and glue, whatever it takes to keep you going.

    1. We Have To Keep Laughing

I have always used humor to deflect when I’m uncomfortable. It’s my defense mechanism and I will openly admit that. It didn’t take me long in the fire service to realize that there are much worse ways to handle these situations than my jokes. Specifically, the frowning mime. You know, the guy that never laughs or talks but instead chooses to sit and frown at everyone, purposely showing no emotion because emotion means you’re weak? There’s one in a lot of firehouses. Technically, there is nothing wrong with that. Technically. But personally, I like my job. I like the people I work with. I like being a first responder. I like the firehouse. So why suck all the fun out of the room every time you walk in? Your attitude and how you approach the shift is contagious. Just like we’re seeing how quick the anger can spread out there we can see the same effect in the station. Every shift offers the choice of what attitude you want to spend the next (insert shift length here) hours living with.

    1. Make Positive Habits

When I was a teacher, I was giving one of the new teachers a rundown of the school. When it came time to describe a teacher who I thought was terrible, I wasn’t holding back. The new teacher stopped me and, very politely, said, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to give everyone a clean slate with me. No offense.” And that blew my mind. He didn’t want my thoughts about them or even why I felt that way. He just wanted to start everyone off in good standing. He then followed that up by saying, “Let’s get out of the teacher’s lounge. Not much good happens in here.” Again, never thought about it. He was right! And the worst part was I was part of the problem and I didn’t even know it. My go-to response had become negative. It was then I realized that this was a habit.

It’s something we don’t even think about, but we do it a thousand times a day. The little reactions and thoughts are what eventually make up who we are. We always ask each other how that patient that is just miserable got to be that way and the answer is…a little at a time. So little that they never saw it happening, but it happened all the same. Make a conscious effort to make your habits positive, even when things aren’t looking so sunny. Especially then. Challenge yourself to go one whole day and say as few negative things as possible. Then let us know how it went. If you’re anything like me that should be enough to keep you busy for a while.

    1. Be The Example

I have seen very few times where me getting angry has helped. Staying calm is a learned skill and one that I still struggle with. When I do manage to do it I’m usually glad I did. Right now first responders are being stereotyped by a the same piece of the population who are mad at us because they are being stereotyped and honestly, that seems like insanity.  But the kicker is we are not 5 years old. We know the world isn’t fair and, if you’ve been a first responder for more than a week you should know this job isn’t fair either. So it’s time to (wo)man up and do what we know needs to be done. If we want to change the current views of our occupation, give them someone worth looking up to! Be the rock, be the calm, be what you want to see out there.

    1. Watch Your Private Conversations

No matter how many times we joke about how “someone is always filming”, especially as first responders, it doesn’t seem real until it goes bad. We don’t need to constantly look over our shoulders, we just need to change what we say. Sometimes we make jokes because we need to stay sane but sometimes it’s just a habit. Treat every situation like you’re being recorded and think before you speak. Pretty simple.

    1. Listen More, Talk Less

Some people demand attention and some people command attention. That one word makes a world of difference. We all know that person that walks into a room and without a word it’s understood that they are in charge. You would follow them into battle without a second thought. And we all know the other person that walks in and announces they are in charge, but we all know they really aren’t. Again, this is something that will take a conscious effort. I’m a talker. Ask anyone that knows me and they will more than confirm this. But you can tell when something is serious because for once, I won’t be talking. It’s something that I should do more often and believe me, I’m working on it. We just miss so much when we talk constantly. Listening can tell you what is going on in someone else’s home life, you can notice body language or just hear what they need to get off their chest so they can start the shift clean. The same goes for dealing with angry people right now. I can guarantee neither of you will argue the other to their side. I think we can all agree on that. All you will do is solidify both of your preconceived notions of the other. Yet we do it anyway! We override our common sense because we feel we are right. Instead, try your best to empathize. Listen. And I mean really listen and you may find that most people are angry because they don’t feel heard. You don’t have to agree, just listen. As first responders, we have to take the high ground here. Listen more. Talk less. Give it a shot. Be a lot cooler if you did (Matthew McConaughey, anybody?)

    1. Pray, A Lot

This one seems pretty self-explanatory but I’ll dive in anyway. When you take your problems to God, they are no longer your problems. You correctly used the chain of command and just like in the department’s chain of command; it is now officially out of your hands. Some people meditate, some have a hobby, some complain to everyone until they feel better. I pray and if you don’t it might be a good thing to try. There isn’t a wrong way to pray but here are a few written for first responders: Firefighter’s Prayer, a Law Enforcement Prayer, and an EMS Prayer. Even the strongest man can only carry so much. The good news is there’s no need to.

    1. Fix Your House

This is the big one. It’s time that we stopped sitting around complaining about what is going on and it’s time to act. I don’t mean by fighting in the streets, arguing with patients and their families or being short with your own family because the state of things is eating you up inside. I mean fix what is yours. Change what you can. And that all starts at your house. Whether that house is at home with your spouse and kids, at the firehouse or in your squad car, your house is your span of control. It can grow but that growth has to be earned. As bad as things seem right now, they can always get worse.

That’s what we’re here for. To fix problems. We don’t fight fire with fire because common sense tells you that doesn’t work (except in some wildland situations but let’s not get off track). The person attempting to put out a house fire with a flamethrower would look like an absolute idiot but that’s exactly what we’re doing when we let this anger get into our houses! We fight fire with water. Fight this hate with love and fight the anger with empathy. There are going to be plenty of old saltys out there that say “Hell no” to this and I can understand that thought process for sure but let me ask them this…How’s that going for ya?   Maybe if we slow down for just a second and let the anger reside, we might realize there’s another way. Another strategy. Another tactic. And that is to stay in our span of control. Start by fixing ourselves, our habits, our thoughts, our insecurities, our selfishness and most importantly, our pride.

FIX YOUR HOUSE

“A fool is known by his speech; and a wise man by his silence.

– Pythagoras


About the Author

Bryce Jones is a firefighter/paramedic in a mid-sized west Texas fire department. He has been on since 2016. Before that, he taught biology and agriculture for 3 years at a Texas high school. For the Brave in 2019 and offers listings for businesses offering discounts to active military, veterans, first responders, teachers and nurses. The goal of this website is to support small businesses, our community and provide a useful tool for our members.

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2 Comments

November 26, 2020 at 4:28 am

I truly appreciate this blog article. Really thank you! Really Cool. Connie Zerk Samuele

    November 26, 2020 at 4:50 am

    Thank you for the kind words Connie! I’m glad this article found its way to you.

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