Don?t Get Burned

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People normally associate firefighting with danger. When speaking to friends and family about entering into the fire service, everyone has said that firefighting is a dangerous profession. There has been several discussions about the hazards of battling fires inside burning structures. Concern has been expressed about the dangers of exposure to fire and the radiated heat from flames and smoldering materials. No one can deny that firefighting is a dangerous profession for all those reasons, but there is a much more common danger that is often overlooked. This is something that every EMS professional is at risk of falling victim to: burnout.

Burnout, as we know it today, was said to have been originally coined by Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD, a New York psychologist. Dr. Freudenberger defined burnout as “a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, way of life, or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” Burnout is used to characterize the loss of physical, emotional and mental energy. It is a slow and gradual process that often occurs in individuals who attempt to reach unrealistic and unattainable goals.

The majority of those who experience burnout are the people who are most enthusiastic and energetic towards their work and projects. Their expectations of what should be undertaken and the possibilities that can be achieved are usually extremely high. Once some of the goals aren’t achieved, or some of the expectations aren’t met, the enthusiasm and energy displayed by these individuals begin to fade. If these individuals decide not to adjust their goals, or lower their objectives, frustration grows as they attempt to strive even harder. The result is the beginning of the vicious cycle of burnout. In severe cases of burnout, individuals who were enthusiastic about their work will grow so cold and empty inside that they no longer care.

In the fire service it’s easy to fall victim to burnout. As a new recruit you want to prove yourself, you’re eager and willing to successfully complete any task placed before you. As the years on the job progress you find yourself continuously learning new procedures, methods and fire codes, trying to stay ahead and remain sharp. As a veteran firefighter you continue to do the same thing...

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... to refuse additional requests or demands on your time or emotions. Become more active in your own field by rekindling your interest in your profession. If the burnout is real severe, and you feel stuck in a rut, take on different work. If the situation can’t be resolved any other way changing jobs is the answer. Also, changing fields is another effective cure. Address issues as they rise. Try not to keep your frustrations and anger pent up inside. Integrate some improved time management into your life. Learn to delegate responsibilities to others at work, home, and with friends. Also, set aside some time each day for mental and physical relaxation.

There are many dangers facing firefighters. Out of all of them, the most common is burnout. Burnout is a cumulative process that leads to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal. The three main symptoms of burnout include detachment, exhaustion, and loss of satisfaction. Friends and family are usually the first to notice these symptoms. There are several ways of helping the recovery and preventing the occurrence of burnout. If you educate yourself on the issue of burnout then prevention will be a lot easier.
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