The brotherhood/sisterhood support system is essential to our wellness and survival.
The brotherhood/sisterhood of firefighters is more than just a feel-good phenomenon of barbecues and family get-togethers. It’s crucial for us to build trust, cooperation and resilience in a physically and mentally demanding career that requires seamless teamwork.
Most of us know about the mutual trust and friendship between firefighters. In fact, many of us view our colleagues as second family and our careers as a way of life.
We look out for each other and our families as part of our daily routine. That could mean mechanical assistance when the car of our colleagues’ spouse breaks down, raising money for medical bills when cancer strikes one of our team members, or sponsoring a college scholarship for the child of a fallen firefighter.
Firefighters could certainly use the support. We are considered to have the second most stressful job in the U.S., according to a 2018 CareerCast.com report.
“Camaraderie, both on and off the fireground, is a vital part of our existence in this ever-changing emergency service industry,” said Dave DeRoller, the Sea Breeze Fire Department fire chief in Rochester, N.Y. and a senior recruiter with Fire Chief Recruiters. “A huge involvement in the entire situation is trust. We have to develop trust with our department members through training and emergencies because ultimately we are trusting that they have our back when things get hectic.”
This social support helps firefighters, emergency responders and emergency medical providers who “run toward danger when most everyone else runs away from it,” said Karen Deppa, in a 2015 firefighter resilience study for the University of Pennsylvania.
Our survival depends on it. The physical and emotional demands of stressful situations – often involving the result of graphic violence – can lead to emotional and behavioral health problems including anxiety, burnout, depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.
Tight-knit relationships and feelings of belonging can build our resilience and coping skills, said Deppa, a public safety advocate who applies positive psychology to groups and organizations. The importance of this supportive social environment can’t be overstated.
When we respond to each other’s experiences with empathy or enthusiastic and constructive support, it promotes a positive outlook, helps us feel valued and builds understanding and cohesiveness.
Camaraderie among firefighters can help us build coping skills and resilience, as well as increase our ability to succeed professionally.
Often, we prepare and cook family-style meals together. And when we work shifts, we can be together for 24 hours to 72 hours at a time.
“These working hours alone demand that we have to be able to respect, tolerate, accommodate and relate to a group of individuals that will also respond to emergencies with us around the clock,” said Keith Mitchell, an independent fire safety consultant and retired U.S. Air Force fire chief, in a 2016 article.
“We talk the same language, so why not associate with one another as often as possible,” Mitchell said. “The fire department is very organized, detailed and strategic. Each position within the ranks serves a purpose and all of the positions come together to form a team to get the job done.”
Comradeship between officers and front-line firefighters helps tremendously with the mental and physical demands of firefighting.
“When we have a close-knit group of firefighters the physical aspect is conquered with good teamwork,” DeRoller said. “From the mental side, when good camaraderie is present we know in our mind the job will get done effectively and we can count on our crew with anything that may happen, good or bad, during the incident.”
On a professional level, camaraderie improves our effectiveness in emergencies, enforces organizational values and builds pride and ownership.
“Knowing the abilities, values, attitudes and, yes, even the opinions of our fellow firefighters, are keys to building trust and respect within the group, which is particularly important because we work in hostile environments where we may be expected to save one another’s lives,” said Stephen Marsar, a 24-year veteran and captain in the Fire Department City of New York.
Knowing our company members may well help us avoid a potential mishap. Many times, when a firefighter dies or is seriously injured in the line of duty, he belongs to a temporary crew or is filling in for someone.
Fire chiefs and other supervisors use this synergy to build cohesive teams, as it’s crucial for our ability to work together during an incident and create a strong sense of confidence when we’re not responding to emergencies.
Here are some recommendations for building cohesiveness in the fire station:
- Take advantage of our brotherhood/sisterhood by creating peer support providers and tapping underused resources such as retired firefighters and veterans of war who have returned to the firehouse.
- Assign personnel to company officers, not just for evaluation, but to observe our performance as we work side-by-side on a daily basis.
- Use dedicated company assignments: assign an officer, an engineer and firefighters to a specific fire company. Avoid mixing company operations except when necessary.
- Administer discipline and corrective measures in private and on an individual basis.
Fire Chief DeRoller knows the brotherhood/sisterhood’s practical impact on the communities we serve.
“Practice what you preach and train like it’s the real deal each and every time,” DeRoller said. “Our residents call us to mitigate their problem no matter the size. We are the first people they see when things are really bad for them, they need to be treated with compassion, respect and dignity.”
Can you provide an example from your own experience of how camaraderie has benefited you or the victims in an emergency? Share it with us on MalteseCrossMagazine.com.
CareerCast. “The Most Stressful Jobs of 2018.” Retrieved from https://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/2018-most-stressful-jobs?page=1
Deppa, K. 2015. “Resilience Training for Firefighters: A Proposed Approach.” Retrieved from https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1083&context=mapp_capstone
Mitchell, K. 2016. The Camaraderie and Strength of the Fire Department. Like no other. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/camaraderie-strength-fire-department-like-other-keith/
Masar, S. 2013. Camaraderie in the Firehouse. Retrieved from https://www.firerescuemagazine.com/articles/print/volume-8/issue-4/professional-development/camaraderie-in-the-firehouse.html