As a fire officer I value my responsibilities very seriously. What would be great for families and loved ones to understand is that the level of preparation before our shifts does not begin the moment we walk into the fire station. There is a level of anxiety, routine, and mental preparedness that must be addressed. This is where my hour long commute to work may at times seem as a pain but I have made the conscious decision to use this time wisely. Let’s discuss what actions we can take to best maximize and prepare for the transition to work.
Currently my platoon assignment is the roving officer and I’m stationed at headquarters. This brings a level of anxiety onto itself. I have very little idea of what station I will be assigned to for the next twenty four hours. This is sometimes troubling to plan my day as I have to wonder about what meal arraignments have been made or do I pack three meals for myself and be that guy! Of course there will be company training which may or may not be scheduled from the department training officer so we as a company will have to decide what to do. Often times as I read through the trade magazines and websites, I will use current events to dictate the content of our company drills. Often times, we as a company decide what to do as a team so there is buy-in from the entire crew.
A great resource that I utilize during the commute are podcasts. There is no shortage of fire service podcasts to listen to during a commute. Some episodes are better than others and most will discuss training and how to become better at our profession which can even become audio drills for the company. I have found great content with the help of podcasts. There are also great podcasts that are not fire serviced centered that can prepare me for the next twenty four hours of unknown chaos or relative boredom.
Most firefighters spend a bunch of time in our mobile offices. This leaves a considerable amount of time to audibly read. Whether it may be promotional materials, college course work, or leisurely reading. The hour can be spent wisely listening to books that we would otherwise not read because we are too busy on the home front.
There is a considerable amount of preparation for us to go to work. Physically and most importantly mentally. The commute for me is a way that I can set aside issues that are at home such as family schedules, soccer or basketball practices and games, and even the honey do list. This is a major part of how I prepare for my home life to my fire officer transition.
Now on the opposite hand is the ride home. This is where we can utilize our commutes as a decompression time. We are faced with major decisions, personalities, and stressors while we are at work and are now driving home for the same set of circumstances just with our families instead of coworkers. This is extremely vital for me to unwind and prepare for my home life.
Sounds crazy right? Having to prepare to go home. The place of respite and comfort. Consider this, how many times while we were on shift has a broken water pipe pushed our significant others over the edge? How many double booked athletic events wreaked havoc on the family taxi? Most assuredly, there were phone calls and texts from our loved ones reaching out for comfort while we try to hold the line from far away.
The transition for me begins the moment I step foot off of the fire station grounds. Like a switch, I take off my fire officer hat off and begin the process of becoming the husband and father that my family needs and expects. Thank God that I have an hour. Sometimes I feel that I may need more time!
During the week my two girls are off to school before I get home which means that my wife is home. One way to decompress is to stop at the bagel store and bring peace offerings. The honey do list items seem to grow exponentially bigger overnight, and maybe I can check off a few during my ride home by stopping at the home improvement store. Often times a “good morning beautiful” text or encouraging words to “get some” as my wife heads to her workout session sets the tone for the rest of the day.
The commute home for me is a way to stop thinking about the fire service and start thinking of how I can better serve my family. Just as in hazardous materials responses where time, distance, and shielding are ways to keep safe so too will they work for the transition home. The better that we can learn to compartmentalize our work lives from our home lives will most certainly help with stress management.
Make The Time
One way that I have found to be extremely helpful for our marriage is to have regular lunch dates. There is so little time devoted to just the two of us that we find at least an hour or so to go and grab a bite together. This time together has proven to become a must for us every day. This allows us to be selfish with our time and not take away time from the children once they get home from school and athletics. I find that this is the best decompression method. My wife and I stop what we are doing, get in the truck and simply enjoy our alone time. It makes a significant difference!
In closing, our significant others may not see the need for us to prepare for work much less having to prepare to return home but this is a staple to a healthy and happy home life. Utilizing the time, distance, and shielding method has helped me and my family to stay happy and strong. I hope that a small glimpse into my daily life will help some of you as you read this very valuable resource that I wish was available when I first started out in my fire service career. From my family to you and yours, stay safe out there, love one another selfishly and may God continue to bless you and your families.
***This article contribution is featured in Lori Mercer's book titled:
Honor & Commitment: Standard Life Operating Guidelines for Firefighters & Their Families
24-7 Commitment Website: 247commitment.org