This is a saying I overheard earlier this week related to the holidays and I think it is fitting. I will break from the normal discussion of tactics and the business side of the fire service to talk about family. Both your home family and your work family. The idea of presence not presents is that we can do more being in the lives of our family than buying them a gist that may or may not be something they want.
Your Personal Family
Many leaders in the fire service and other professions likely catch themselves about half way through the year realizing they are logging my frequent flyer miles for work than family and that as much as we desire to be with our families that our work commitments take us away from our families frequently. This is a constant battle, as we have to satisfy the boss and the real boss at home. We started a family tradition many years ago that we take a family vacation at Christmas time rather than buying a bunch of gifts. Don’t worry, my son still got an iPhone 11, so he is not suffering, LOL. However, this has become our norm, as it disengages both my wife and me from our daily grinds and allows us to focus on family time. This couple of weeks together reconnects us and sets the proper mindset for the upcoming year. While the profession of firefighting does not permit this for those on the bottom of the seniority list, we can see that even if you take time in the beginning of December to reconnect, you will be much better off than just working through the holidays and not finding the time to be with your family.
Your Work Family
It is no secret that the fire service is not the best profession for long-standing marriages and many of our co-workers may have a variety of family relationships from multiple families to no family. I have some friends that enjoy working through Christmas and giving others off because their work family is their family. We must get to know those who work for us throughout the year so that we can be there for them when the holiday season approaches. We all know that suicides and mental health issues increase for call volume during the holidays and our co-workers are only a subset of society, thus any mental health issues we see in society, we are likely to need to see in our co-workers. Do you know how to identify PTSD and other mental health issues in your co-workers? Do you know when they are not acting their norm, and most importantly, do you know how to contact mental health professionals so that you can connect these two? I have had many debates on the rise in mental health issues related to fire service personnel. The stance I have made is that we should know how to connect our personnel with mental health professionals that understand our profession. I know many believe that just talking with people or giving them some room will help, but in reality, they have psychologist licensing for the same reason as the invention of medical doctor licensing; it’s a specialty that not everyone has the training to perform. While we can think we are helping, if we are not properly trained, we may actually worsen the situation. Be there, but be aware of your knowledge limitations.
Leaders can often be those most vulnerable, as they are in a position in which one would say is “lonely at the top”. Connect with other leaders to see how everyone is doing. Go to lunch to have some time to unload the stress and get away from the office. Lastly, be sure to try to get some exercise. Exercise has been proven on many occasions to not only help physically, but improves mental states. The holidays are full of unhealthy items being delivered to the firehouse and sympathy eating is a reality. While no one is telling you to stay perfect on the diet during h holidays, remember stress and a bad diet with no exercise is a recipe for a new year filled with doctors’ appointments and new or increased medicines. First and foremost, take care of yourself or you won’t be here to lead or take care of others.
To all the readers I with you a happy and joyful holiday season. Take care of each other and your families, as beyond the latest shiny item that we didn’t need, it’s all we have.