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In the past year, firefighters throughout the Triangle have faced criminal charges ranging from driving while impaired to armed robbery and child pornography.
That’s according to clinical psychologist Janet Savia, a member of the Fire Chaplain 101 training team who specializes in tracking effects of stress on emergency responders and health-care professionals.
Firefighters have stressful jobs, and that stress could lead to poor decisions if they don’t handle it properly, Savia said.
Her message to Morrisville firefighters was part of a new training program offered by Fire Chaplain 101. The Morrisville-based nonprofit was founded in 2010 to provide training for fire department chaplains, because there was no agency in North Carolina performing that service.
Fire Chaplain 101 has extended its program to firefighters. In November, the group launched a day-long seminar with units on suicide awareness, stress management, cultural diversity and living wills that is available to fire departments across the state.
Morrisville is one of the group’s pilot locations.
“You have to address the stress,” Savia said. “It has been around and no one wants to talk about it. We joke around, we say we’re going to go home and drink a beer or watch porn. But people have been crossing the line. You can’t ignore it.”
When stress isn’t addressed, Savia said, some people might cope by “yelling at the kids, hitting the wife, kicking the dog.”
Savia recommended firefighters use relaxation techniques like deep breaths and mental diversions. She also suggested they talk to someone they trust.
When people are stressed, they often have trouble concentrating, Savia said. That can also be deadly for firefighters, who operate heavy machinery and often find themselves in high-risk situations.
Some Morrisville firefighters and emergency-services workers already know how important it can be to talk about their experiences. When a 12-year-old girl died after being hit by a van in 2007, emergency workers were deeply affected.
“Most of them had children the age of the little girl,” said Pastor Ted Edwards, founder of Fire Chaplain 101 who also serves as the Morrisville Fire Department chaplain. He helped emergency responders work through their grief after the accident.
“It gave them the opportunity to vent, to cry – to get it off their chest and to listen to others,” Edwards said. “A lot of them were asking, ‘Should I have done this?’ or ‘Should I have done that?’ ”
The purpose of the seminar was to be proactive instead of reactive, said Morrisville Fire Chief Todd Wright, a trainer and member of Fire Chaplain 101.
He said the stress firefighters face is very real – both on the job and on the family front.
“We’re out at wrecks, suicides. Sometimes we are with people as they are dying,” Wright said. “A third of their life is spent here away from their families. They miss holidays, birthdays and special family events. We want to help anyone to get the resources they need.”
The seminar was a good reminder to handle stressors effectively, said Capt. Kevin Rohrer. For him, playing golf and talking things over with co-workers are helpful.
“We’re like a family,” Rohrer said. “The things that happen in the fire station stay in the fire station. You can talk over things with each other that other people just wouldn’t understand.”