Out of My Mind: Health and Wellness

By Rich Marinucci

Quite some time ago I heard a presentation by a financial advisor. He said that everyone should pay themselves first in order to best prepare for retirement. I have since heard this advice many times. I think it should apply to everyone’s health and wellness also. This is especially true in the fire service. We have always known of the physical requirements and knowledge needed. We continue to learn about the mental and emotional aspects of the job. Those personalities attracted to the fire service are unselfish by nature. But, maybe we need to do a better job of “paying ourselves first” with respect to our own well-being so that we are better able to serve others.

Make time to exercise. It doesn’t have to be long or every day. Thirty minutes, three times a week will help. More would be better, but getting started could be the hardest part. Include aerobic and anaerobic along with stretching. Try to pick something you enjoy a little. If you like something you have more of a chance to continue. It can take a couple of months to establish this as habit, so don’t quit. Find a partner so you can “nag” each other to exercise regularly. I can remember many times when I didn’t want to do something when I remembered I was meeting someone, or I didn’t want to hear the grief I was sure to get for not showing up (more likely)!

There are more aspects to the physical well-being side of the equation. This would include an annual physical. I know some places that recommend two physicals a year—one done by the department and one done with a person’s individual insurance. For a department physical, they should be done in compliance with the NFPA standards as they are designed specifically for the occupation. I have known individuals who have been hesitant in that they worry it could cost them their jobs. I know of many cases where problems have been discovered and corrected but don’t have any knowledge of folks losing their job. Your loved ones want you around, and so does your department. If an issue can be discovered early, there is a much better chance of finding a good solution that helps return individuals to normal activities, including firefighting.

More and more we are learning about the toll this job takes on the mental and emotional well-being of firefighters. Science is helping to demonstrate the challenges and hopefully offer suggestions to change the picture. As we all know, the job is continually changing. The number of calls is increasing almost everywhere, and the types of calls affect mental conditions. I am not going to get into this part of the discussion but only want to reaffirm the need to “pay oneself first.” No matter how tough you think you are or your belief that you are OK, you need to take time to decompress from the job and get away. I think everyone has their own means of doing so and should figure out the best way for them to occasionally distance themselves from the stresses of the job. It is also a good idea to look out for your brothers and sisters and step in when action is warranted.

Injured firefighters, regardless of whether it is physical or mental, are not able to best discharge their duties. Those in the right frame of mind and physically ready will do a better job in the end. This means that organizations need to create a culture and safety climate that improves their approach throughout the organization. Healthy firefighters will do better for their customers and themselves. Leaders need to step up and look toward improvement. It will pay dividends.

The FDSOA just concluded its Safety Forum and Apparatus Symposium and just listening to all the various presenters and the diversity of topics, you really get the sense of how much there is to know in this industry if you want to be competent. Organizations need to invest in their personnel and gain as much information as possible to be able to make good decisions. No one individual can take it all in, so those departments that can make the investment in training must do so with more than just one or two people. There are many resources to gain knowledge, and technology allows instant access to information. But, there is nothing that can replace learning from others and networking with others passionate and knowledgeable about their jobs. Resources must be made available so that members can participate. Those who don’t are missing out, are not using their resources wisely, and most likely are wasting funds.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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