Silent Night

Throughout the last few years, the fire service has made tremendous strides in breaking down the barriers to emotional wellness. We are better than we were yesterday, but not quite where we need to be, but we are constantly making progress. And as we head into the Christmas holiday, we need to take a moment to do that ever-important, self-inventory of ourselves and our surroundings.

The holiday blues are a very real phenomenon and iscompounded by various factors such as stressful end-of-the-year factors, family dysfunction, loss and loss reminders, poor eating and drinking habits, and dark winter days. And that’s before you throw in the very unique stressors that is today’s fire service such as staff shortages resulting in mandatory overtime, missing those critical moments with the family as you work on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, holiday travel plans pushed to next year due to vacation being denied due to said shortages, and the ever-constant exposure to traumatic stress that is the job.

Then you have those that celebrate the holidays alone, adding another layer of complexity to this time of the year. The U.S. Census Bureau found that between 2007 and 2012, Millennials accounted for 24% of the total population, but made up over 43% of all movers. Look around your own department and ask yourself how many members are there without any family in the area? Departments used to be made up of people that grew up in that area or surrounding areas, but now departments are made up from people from all over the state, surrounding states, and across the country. And the holidays can be a lonely time and add even more stress to people in this category. We are a mobile society, often leaving our family and friends behind in search of “what’s next”.

There are few things we can do to reduce this stress. Set goals and realistic expectations for the holidays, take a break as we often try to do too much around the holidays, stop comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides as we all have our struggles regardless of what the appearances are, and take time to take care of yourself. And during this holiday season, take a few moments to check on each other. We don’t always know the load people are carrying with them, and that load gets heavier this time of the year. Have a station or company Christmas dinner or party, have a station gift exchange, or invite those without family in the area over for some Christmas Eve fellowship or Christmas Day dinner. Or just reach out just to say hi, you never know when that random phone call is the one who saves someone’s life. Most importantly, take care of yourself and one another.

 About the Author 

SIDNEY LUCAS began his fire service career as a volunteer with the Belle and Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Departments (WV) in 1999 and currently serves as a Lieutenant with the Newport News Fire Department (VA) and is assigned as the Department Safety Officer. He has been with the department for over 11 years where he has served in various capacities. He is a former Chief of Quinton Volunteer Fire and EMS (VA) and a veteran of the United States Navy, serving onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) as part of the Crash and Salvage Team supporting the Global War on Terrorism. Sidney is a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer’s Academy and currently serves on staff. 

Sleep and Firefighters

One thing firefighters have been known to lack, is lack of sleep. Generally, not something that is talked about or brought up in conversation, but lack of sleep has links to firefighter injury and death. Think about it, emergency service personnel live off shift work and interrupted sleep patterns which are out of their control since alarms can happen any time of any day.

According to The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sleep or interrupted sleep patterns could be a major factor in more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths. The majority of these are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents. Research has shown that approximately 7,000 firefighters have reported to suffer from numerous sleep disorders such as obstructed sleep apnea, insomnia and shift-work disorder which was reported by the New York Times.

They also reported firefighters are also more likely to develop serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety because of sleep disorders. In addition to these health problems, firefighters are also likely to report an increase in kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity.


Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

Helen Regan Nov. 14, 2014

Sleep plays an integral role in physical health and especially of one of a functional athlete.

The human body is built with an internal clock and changing to our sleep patterns at any time can disrupt or alter the internal clock which is built on routine – something we don’t have much of as firefighters. While sleeping our bodies are healing and repairing our heart, blood vessels, muscles and allowing our bodies to heal. In addition, sleep with repair and consolidate memory. 

So what could we do to ensure we get a sufficient amount of sleep off duty so we are recharged and energized for our next shift?

Here are a few tips to try while off duty:

1. Routine. This is important. Stick to a sleep schedule while home.

2. Power Down. Turn off or avoid all electronic devices 30-60 minutes prior to bed.

3. Keep Cool. Try to keep the bedroom cooler than other areas of the house. Majority of people sleep more soundly in a cooler bedroom.

4. No alcohol or caffeine. Both are known to disrupt sleep patterns either by unexpected wake ups or restless sleep.

5. Comfort. Invest in a pillow and/or mattress that’s comforting to you. This also helps eliminate muscle, nerve and joint pains especially headaches.

6. FAST. Try hard to avoid large meals close to bedtime as much as possible.

Proper training, proper nutrition and proper recovery (along with sleep) are all vital to our success as firefighters on the job and off. 

Until next time; work hard, stay safe & life inspired.

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 16 years in the fire service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor and currently a State of New Jersey Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.