HEALTHBudgeting for Health and Wellness Initiatives

Budgeting for Health and Wellness Initiatives

By: Bradley R. Davidson CCFI-C CFEI CFII

When budgeting for health and wellness initiatives in the Fire Department money well spent in my humble opinion should be on three specific areas.

Physical fitness

Physical fitness facilities are a no-brainer for the fire services. Not only are firefighters expected to be physically fit but need to be athletes to perform on-the-job functions in a manner that is expected by the public. Not only just to the public but your fellow firefighter who you also serve and may be paired with while using your SCBA at a fire. Search and rescue activities may be hampered for instance if one firefighter cannot control his breathing or is laboring because of poor physical fitness while his partner is not. Possibly even more complicated when responding in a hazmat-level A airtight suit. Firefighting in full turnout gear and or being enclosed in an airtight suit with your SCBA is as we know quite physically demanding. Along with physical fitness let’s not forget to hydrate say even on the way to a fire or before suiting up on that hazmat call. It’s not a suggestion, this should be mandatory.

Fitness is enhanced by proper nutrition, hydration, and rest. I was fortunate to be in a department that had very easy access to quality weightlifting and aerobic-enhancing equipment. Easy access and convenience made it much easier and more practical to get in a workout at work in my free time or on days off. I’m retired now but I miss those days of a good workout in that gym. Physical fitness provides many rewards and is a great investment in the public you serve, your fire department and your own overall health.

    In my case having the facilities easily available also helped me to create and stick to a schedule. I knew when I was doing weights or cardio, and when and how to plan my nutrition and recovery times or days. Another positive period in my fitness and career was when I practiced Shotokan Karate. This training helped me to be pushed further than I would have pushed myself. And included the discipline of practicing the kata. Our instructor stressed the importance of warm-up and spent a large amount of time stretching which really helped me. As well in closing the training we would spend time cooling down from our workout which is also important. I’m proud to say that at one time when I was more or less at my personal peak of physical fitness, we would have contests to see who could manage or use the least amount of air in the SCBA tank. A few times I was not the top performer but often tied with those who were or were close.

    Mental Health

    I didn’t give much thought to mental health, especially in my rookie years. When you sign up you have visions of helping those in peril, being on the nozzle, and aggressively putting out the fire. I wasn’t prepared for the fatal calls, the sights, and the scenes that became etched in my memories. A few fatal calls or tragic scenarios usually are not a problem. However, responding to many of these scenes repeated over and over often takes a toll on the firefighter. Especially if these types of calls involve extreme danger to yourself and others. The good thing as I see it nowadays is that there is much greater emphasis on recognition of a post-traumatic injury. And more resources are being made available which is also good.

    However, the problem lies in the fact that there are just not enough professionals out there who are readily available for whatever reason. A great book and resource I found included a bestseller book by Dr. David Griffin formerly of the Charleston Fire Department. He describes in his book PTSD TO PTG: A Firefighter’s (My) Journey After a Multiple LODD incident of the trauma he experienced losing nine of his brother firefighters in the Charleston Sofa Superstore fire. During my Fire Investigation training, I studied the fire dynamics of this fire but not the actions of the firefighters. Additionally, he describes how Post Traumatic Injury is not a life sentence. From PTSI many if not all can still live healthy productive lives in what he terms Post Traumatic Growth. Another book I recommend is by my friend Fire Chief (ret.) Arjuna George, author and professional Burnout and Resilience Coach titled Burnt Around the Edges: A Guide to Mastering Stress and Surviving Burnout. (also available on Amazon). 

      It might be noted that there is a mind-body connection. With the mind affecting the body and vice versa. Physical fitness can help us reset after a traumatic call or series of stressful events. When the mind is stressed or has suffered a post-traumatic stress injury it often affects, mood, sleep, energy, and body systems. I read recently that firefighters are at high risk also for developing chronic sleep problems due to shift work. It is not just the amount of sleep a firefighter gets or in most cases does not get. One of the problems that can be overlooked is the quality of the sleep. If the quality of sleep is chronically poor this can also affect firefighter alertness, performance, and quality of critical decision-making. For many years I experienced chronic sleep issues and frequently had debilitating migraines. 

      Some of these issues by themselves might be manageable but if there are several affecting the firefighter it’s probably worse than realized. And it’s high time to see your physician, take a good hard look at what changes need to be made to be healthy for yourself, your family, “Mrs. Smith who you serve, and your brother firefighters who also count on you as part of the team effort.

      Bradley is a new author of his recently published book titled, Flames of the Fire – Firefighting Amidst the Explosions. Available at Amazon Worldwide, Alibri Worldwide, Barnes and Noble, Better World Books, Booktopia (Australia), Books a Million, Blackwells UK, Chapters – Indigo books, Kindle books, (NY), and (UK)

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