By: Michelle Bogle
Injuries and firefighting — these two things go hand-in-hand. From overexertion to strains and sprains and other debilitating injuries, a job in the fire service is risky business. Even with the best efforts, well-developed operating guidelines, ongoing training and personal protective gear, accidents will happen. Getting hurt on the job is a real downer but being removed from active duty is a whole other beast.
Resting at home doesn’t come naturally for firefighters. Your career isn’t a job but a calling, which makes it hard to sit on the sidelines. Then there’s the endless hours of physical therapy away from your fire family. You know you need to put in the work, but it’s hard taking orders from someone other than your chief. You’re also at the mercy of physical therapists and treating physicians to determine when you can climb back into the jump seat. Gearing up and responding to calls makes you feel alive, so sitting on the couch re-watching sports highlights is a major hit to your confidence. You feel vulnerable but showing weakness isn’t easy.
Getting injured on the job is more than physical
It hurts the psyche, too. Your identity is wrapped up in being a firefighter so when you can’t report in for duty, the mental impacts may be more significant than the physical injury itself. You might also suffer from feelings of isolation after an extended separation from a workplace culture built on teamwork and camaraderie. Once a member of the pack, you feel like a lone wolf as you navigate your unfamiliar post-injury life.
So, what can you do if an injury has weakened your armor?
Start by shifting your perspective towards a new purpose: getting well. Just like you give your all in the fire service, you need to show up for your recovery — mentally, physically and emotionally. You’ve got a new job to do, which is working hard every day for as long as it takes to overcome your injury. You need to stay focused on the end goal, which is returning to the job that you not only love but are called to do.
It’s also important to lean on the support of your brothers and sisters because they’ve been in your boots at one time or another. They want you back on the team healthy and whole just as much as you do. Because at the end of the day, a healthy firefighter is an effective and safe firefighter.
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