|This is someone's actual day job|
There are people who, because of societal pressures and traditions (in some cases, institutional policies), are not allowed nor expected, to show their emotions. But emotions nevertheless do show up – often in unintended and harmful ways.
Fire and rescue crews, police, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). All are first responders to often life-threatening situations. All are expected by the public to perform perfectly, without error and without displaying emotion. That is, except for the so called “good ones” (i.e., happiness, joy, euphoria, etc.).
What must it be like to be a human being who works in such professions? Jobs in which danger is a daily reality yet be expected not to have or show fear?
I can’t imagine.
It’s hard to conceive what it’s like to arrive at a structure fire to fight it, knowing I may have to enter that inferno, and possibly run into suffering, dying or dead people. Or that I may not leave that place myself in one piece.
I have no idea what an EMT or other rescue unit must feel when faced with the carnage of a traffic accident. To extract broken bodies from wreckage, provide emergency treatment only to have victims die before your eyes.
It’s beyond my comprehension what goes through a police officer’s mind when, alone on night patrol, he/she receives a “shots fired” call. Then on arrival being swarmed by persons at the scene – all excited by what just occurred.
|Rewarding work, but at what cost?|
How can anyone not have at least some level of fear in these very real cases? I’m told by veterans of such emergencies, “You don’t have time to feel.” “Your training kicks in.”
Training. It’s important in all vocations, from human resources professionals to factory workers. It is especially critical to the success of first responders. Acquiring quality training can spell the difference between fumbling a rescue and saving a soul. Life and death stuff.
I’ve been forced to respond in crisis situations a time or three in my life. So I appreciate how being well-trained helps you respond to fear in ways that are manageable. That said, it’s still unlikely most can get the fear trained out of them.
It must be emphasized that I don’t associate fear with cowardice. I believe it’s possible for a person who freezes in one scenario to take heroic action in another. Few are the first responders I’ve spoken to who willing speak of fear; fewer still admit it exists in them. Which brings us to another often ignored topic: bias.
We all have it. That’s a fact. To deny it is to refute one of the basic tenants of what it means to be perfectly imperfect human beings. Ask around and most will insist they have no biases when it comes to groups of people different from their own. That’s a problem because they do; we all do. A lot of folks are simply not good at realizing how and when bias showing up.
It can be problematic when first responders possesses one bias or another but doesn’t own up to it or are even aware it exists. Or maybe they are mindful enough but haven’t received the training needed to effectively understand and manage it. Add fear to the mix and what you have is a noxious recipe for poor decision making in the moment that can lead to ugly outcomes.
you’re tasked with being a first responder in crisis situations, you tend to
move reflexively. You often have mere seconds, not minutes to take life-preserving
(or life taking) action. So if you don’t know where your biases are outside of
emergencies, when you’re in them those biases will surface, often in unintended
|Rogue cop or battle fatigue|
Witness the recent McKinney, Texas, pool party debacle in which an amped up police officer cursed at unarmed teenagers, pointed his weapon at them and wrestled some to the ground, including a 14-year-old bikini clad girl. The officer’s actions were condemned by superiors and he subsequently resigned.
All of us consciously and unconsciously participate in a cycle of bigotry and oppression due to power, prejudice, and privilege. In the case of first responders, such ways of being can be reduced through specific training around bias. We owe it to them. We owe it to ourselves.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.