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.