We joined the emergency services to help people.  We get antsy when we go shifts without feeling like we’ve made an impact.  We use language that doesn’t seem right to ‘normal’ people, like “good fire” in reference to that hard work we put in or “bad tours” in reference to shifts with no meaningful calls.   It’s not that we’re wishing for bad things to happen, we just want to go help people.  We train, hard, to be ready for the calls that we feel never come.  We want to use our training and strength to actively solve a real problem for our citizens whose lives we become intertwined with the moment we arrive on scene.  We want to make a difference.


When we do not succeed in making the difference we envision, emergency responders internalize. Those calls where things didn’t go like we planned in training, where the extrication or fireground operations didn’t run as smoothly, become the song stuck in our heads that we just can’t shake. 


Any response can be looked at as a chain, and we all have a link in that chain.  When the chain breaks, every one of us starts examining our own link, checking for rust, nicks, and signs of wear.  We wonder if there was something that we could have done differently, faster, better; if we could have prepared more for the statistical anomaly that derailed the response.  We mentally second guess every decision that was made, first those decisions we had control over, then the decisions of others.  We start looking at the other links, the nicks and rust accumulating on them. 

This is the point that defines what we’re going to get out of these experiences.

Some departments have a meeting immediately following a difficult incident and call it good.  But one meeting doesn’t always solve those issues that spin in people’s minds.  One meeting doesn’t clear away the calls being relived dozens (or hundreds) of times, and all the second-guessing that accompanies each replay. 


As you sit and blame yourself for forgetting to put on the ‘hindsight goggles’ before you jumped on the rig, you end up isolating yourself.  You drift further and further away from your brothers and sisters.  You know, the ones who are battling the same demons.  You end up hardening on the outside and pushing away those closest to you; your family and friends.  You start beating yourself up because you can’t stop thinking about your link, your position in that chain.  You don’t want to talk to others about the call(s) because you feel like a chump.  But that feeling is just your ego telling you to carry it on your own. That “I got this…” mentality does nothing more than mess you up from the inside out. 


After every call, good or bad, we need to sit down and really dissect what happened; look at what went right and discuss what didn’t go right; without blame.  That’s where we can learn from each other.  We can only make decisions with the information, and resources, we have at the time.  Sometimes the decisions come easier because of training and pre-planning for situations.  Other times we do the best we can, with what we have, when we have it. 


When you spend time discussing the calls that went right, you will start building up a cache of successes in your mind and in the minds of your crew.  Having that reserve of  ‘wins’ builds confidence in your skills and confidence in each other. It will reinforce each link so that when you show up on scene, you’re there as a chain, links intertwined, ready to take on the call and the debrief after, be it good or bad, together as a team.

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