Greetings to all! Well another convention has come and gone and by all accounts it was another successful event to be recorded in the history books of the FFAM. If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend this year, start making plans for next year’s convention as it is never too early to make a reservation and get the event on your calendar.
Now that convention has passed let’s talk a bit this time about rest. Seems fitting to talk about this now as we had an opportunity to rest a bit, although I am sure not everyone did, during convention. Now you might be thinking “what does rest have to do with me, or for that matter the fire service.” For the sake of this article the term rest is going to be a large all-encompassing word to cover all aspects of what you may think rest is.
The concept of rest in the fire service is somewhat obvious, but encompasses many things. Getting some sleep, relaxing, taking a break, disconnecting or recharging yourself. These are important steps to help you avoid what can at times be deadly consequences of not resting.
Let’s begin with sleep. Of course sleep is different than relaxing, as you can relax while doing minor other things, but sleep is simply sleep. Some studies suggest that for the age group of adults over 18 an average targeted amount of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours daily, but this can be affected by genetic, behavioral and environmental factors. I know each of us in the fire service have no other responsibilities that would keep us from sleeping and of course calls for service are generally pre-scheduled to take place only during our waking hours so I am sure we are all getting the recommended amount of sleep. Good fantasy, but not really a reality for our industry.
So what happens when we don’t get enough of the sleep portion of our required rest? Some short term problems can include lack of alertness, relationship stress, impaired memory and overall quality of life. It should be obvious to all of us that when you are sleepy you are simply not as alert as normal. The consequences of this can be deadly as you are responding to or working at an emergency scene. It only takes a split second of not being alert to crash an apparatus, miss a turn or simply not focus on the basic safety issues related to our industry. Would fatigue ever factor in to not providing the proper medical care for a patient? The results of administering incorrect medications or not being able to get an IV started correctly due to not being alert can have obvious negative results.
Think a minute about the relationships in your life. Have you ever noticed you or those around you are just a bit more “short” when not enough sleep has been achieved? How many workplace issues could have been avoided if all involved simply had enough rest and were not on edge and easily aggravated due to the lack of sleep?
Some research has suggested that your… now what was I going to say… hmmm… oh, that’s right… research has suggested that your memory can be affected by lack of sleep or rest. I am sure those around you can attest that when you are a bit “out-of-it” due to that extra-long scene or shift or just lack of sleep you don’t remember some of what you said or did. Now if those things your brain skips are minor and of no consequence then that just leaves more room in the old noggin for new information. However, if you have no recall over important issues either at or away from work there can be a great impact. Forget to pick up or meet your significant other someplace because you received the information while fatigued, and I can speak from personal experience that the impact is, well let’s just say you won’t forget the next time. Now imagine that you received instructions from your bosses during a fatigued period and you failed to follow through with what you were told, that likely will not end well either.
Have you ever considered how your sleep is related to your health? Some of the more serious potential health problems can include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Many who go long terms without proper sleep may also be more prone to obesity, depression and other similar health related issues. We have all made a comment from time to time about someone’s appearance due to lack of sleep, parents of a newborn for example, so imagine what the effects on your appearance may be due to prolonged lack of adequate sleep.
So let’s shift the conversation a little from sleep, since we likely aren’t getting what we need anyway and talk about resting or relaxing. If you don’t have a hobby or some type of pastime that is not emergency services related, you need to find one. The human has little ability to “shut off” or not be concerned about what is taking place if they cannot disconnect almost completely from something. Yes, you can schedule a “date” night or other similar activity, but did you leave your pager or other mobile notification devices at home? If not then you are really not disconnected and you aren’t truly relaxing. Now I am not saying that you have to take a big vacation and get completely away, but you do need to find something that takes your mind off of work and the often non-pleasant things we experience and relax.
I have not been a big vacation taker in the past and quite honestly have not done my best about sleeping or relaxing. My wife often asks me why I continue to go hunting since I have told her I am not that concerned about bagging any game. My answer has always been that sitting alone, or sometimes with a family member, out in nature without any preconceived need to accomplish anything was my way of relaxing and getting a little “recharge” started. I have noticed as I have gotten older that those days in the outdoors recharging don’t last long enough and my batteries appear to drain quicker when I return to work. Non-the-less I have found the necessity of relaxation and highly recommend you find that thing that gets you away and allows you to relax. Who knows, I may get started doing the vacation thing and run in to you in some odd and out of the way place.
We all see enough ugly in our day to day service that we should not ignore the things we can do to help make the ugly less impactful. By disconnecting and allowing yourself some time to relax and consequently getting enough sleep you can take great strides towards helping yourself deal with not only the ugly, but just the regular day to day grind we all have. So take some time and schedule an official time to rest, take a vacation, steal a nap when you can, get regular sleep, but above all take care of yourself. Without you, the service level to the public will be affected. Your contributions can not be made by anyone else but you, so do what you can to make sure you are performing at your best. Rest!
As always, if I can be of any assistance to you please contact me.