“It’s all about maintaining focus.” Words recently spoken in a conversation I was having with a friend. Maintaining focus is often difficult. Life has many distractions.
Just last week, there was an extremely important issue concerning home sprinkler systems and a vote to keep them in the residential code. As I support the use of residential sprinklers for many reasons including not only their life safety benefits to the occupants of a home, but also as they relate to the safety of our firefighters, I was trying to maintain focus on the effort to keep residential sprinklers where they belong in the code.
But, with conducting interviews for positions within the Division, making a trip to the Kansas City area to address a recruit class and some fire chiefs, dealing with elevator rules, working on an Assistance to Firefighters Grant, a meeting at the lake and trying to prepare for a brief visit with our children over the weekend; I lost focus on the sprinkler issue. Fortunately for us, Missouri’s fire service and sprinkler advocates were there to step in and successfully champion the cause.
At a meeting with Missouri Fire Chaplains Corps that same weekend, I was again reminded of focus. Chaplains are often an under-utilized resource. We see chaplains performing duties at fire department dinners or memorial services. But, how often do we see them on the fire scene or as part of the response to a motor vehicle collision or medical call?
As we have begun to shift our focus to the recognition of stress related illnesses brought about by our constant exposure to what are often the worst days in the lives of the people we protect, perhaps it’s time to consider the presence of fire chaplains within our ranks. Fire chaplains, many of whom have the same experiences as we do in public safety, are trained to help us recognize the early signs of being worn down by the duties of the profession or even by our lives outside the firehouse.
It is so easy to find ourselves wrapped up in the despair of others. Properly trained fire chaplains may be able to help us return focus back to the importance of taking care of ourselves. Contrary to the belief held by most responders, it is not selfish to focus on ourselves.
I’ve said many times firefighters need to be there for their own families and communities. It is only through maintaining focus on what’s important in life we can be there for them, both mentally and physically. Having a group of people ready and willing to step in to help us when we lose focus is never a bad thing.
Acting State Fire Marshal