Articles by Sam DiGiovanna
This time of year we remind communities to change their smoke detector batteries, advise them how to be safe while cooking during the holidays and, for those of us in wildland fire-prone communities, encourage them to follow the “Ready, Set, Go” model to properly prepare. But there’s another dangerous “season” out there we need to be aware of. In addition to Covid–19, flu season is among us and, as with fire, it’s important to take preventive measures and prepare your resources (you!). When it comes to being exposed to airborne and bloodborne pathogenic germs, firefighters are among the most at risk. And this is not just a little inconvenience that one or two sick days can cure. Emergency rooms become saturated this time of year with people suffering from the flu, which generally peaks between December and April. Harvard Medical School estimates that 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year in the U.S. due to flu. So, how’s your personal “Prevention Bureau” doing? Are you taking preventive measures to mitigate your risk for flu? Have you and your family received the flu vaccine? How about those you work with? Are you stocked up on over-the-counter medications? If you think about it, firefighting and “flu fighting” are very similar. Both start out small, but if not rapidly attacked, they develop into a much worse situation. Let’s look at this similarity a little more closely. Firefighting versus flu fighting: Incipient stage 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year in the U.S. due to flu Fire - This first stage begins when heat, oxygen and a fuel source combine and have a chemical reaction resulting in fire. This is also known as “ignition” and is usually represented by a very small fire that hopefully goes out on its own before severe stages are reached. Recognizing a fire in this stage provides your best chance at suppression or escape. Cold/Flu - The incipient stage is the incubation period, or the time it takes for a person who has been exposed to the virus to become infected (think of infection as ignition). The Merck Manual’s Online Medical Library section on influenza reports the incubation period may be from one to four days (first stage), averaging about 48 hours from exposure. Controlling the spread Fire - As the fire grows, the structure’s fire load and available oxygen are used as fuel for the fire. The fire starts rapidly spreading to other parts of the building, creating more damage. It is during this shortest of the four stages when a deadly “flashover” can occur, potentially trapping, injuring or killing firefighters. Cold/Flu - The U.S. Library of Medicine defines communicability as the time it takes an infectious agent to be transmitted from an infected person to another person (spreading rapidly). Once infected with influenza-type illnesses, the affected person may begin shedding the virus to others one day before signs and symptoms occur and continue to be contagious after symptoms begin. Prevention is all but impossible at this stage of the disease. Fully Developed When it comes to being exposed to airborne and bloodborne pathogenic germs, firefighters are among the most at risk Fire - When all combustible materials have been ignited, a fire is considered fully developed. This is the hottest phase of a fire and the most dangerous for anybody trapped within it. At this point our efforts are generally focused on protecting endangered structures. We surround the fire, apply massive amounts of water and let the contents burn themselves out. Cold/Flu - Fighting a fully developed flu virus is not much different. You position yourself in a safe place (usually your bed!) and “surround and drown” with fluids/rest. You generally cannot do much except protect exposures (others) by limiting your contact with them. The Firefighter Flu Prevention Bureau If fighting the flu has similarities with fighting fire, we can extend the metaphor a little further. In the fire service we rely on our Fire Prevention Bureau to educate the public as to the common causes of residential fires. We understand that a little education goes a long way in preventing fires. Well, the flu is no different, except this time we’re educating ourselves! So, following are a few tips from your friendly Flu Prevention Bureau: Wash your hands. The most important prevention measure for preventing colds and flu is frequent hand washing. Rub your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds to slough germs off the skin. Get a flu vaccine. Within two weeks of getting a flu vaccine, antibodies develop in the body and provide protection against flu. Children receiving the vaccine for the first time need two doses delivered one month apart. If you get exposed or get sick, take action. Give yourself time to recover, with plenty of fluids and lots of rest. Seek medical help if your symptoms don’t improve. Antiviral medicine may also help prevent flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms. In this flu season, take steps to protect your health and the health of those around you. Check with your NFPA—or Nearest Family Physician Available—for additional preventive measures on reducing this risk!
Like professional athletes, learning how to stay composed under pressure is key to performing your best in any situation. Whether it’s a dynamic incident you are commanding at work, an important staff or city council meeting, dealing with a difficult person or situations in your personal life, how you cope with pressure is one way you separate yourself from the pack. Learning how to stay composed under pressure is key to performing your best in any situation. We cannot allow our emotions to go through the roof every time we encounter stress or difficult situations. Situational Awareness can also be practiced as a "personal tool" when feeling stressed. Why is it some people thrive under the pressure? They go deeper in “the zone” while others get distracted and have a meltdown. How you interpret and deal with the pressure is what helps you succeed. Dealing with pressure Learning how to stay composed under pressure is key to performing your best in any situation Is your interpretation of pressure a challenge or a threat? Pressure comes from external sources, other's expectations, or your own expectations to perform well. They also come from our formative years and how we watched our parents handle them. You can view pressure situations in two ways: as a challenge that instills motivation or as a threat that instills anxiety. Here are a few techniques for staying composed when you start to feel the heat: Tap the Brakes Anxiety speeds up your behavior. When you feel tense, try to slow down. Be more deliberate without overanalyzing the situation. When you hurry you are prone to accidents. Breathe Deep Deep breathing is an excellent technique to reduce muscular tension and focus on something positive. Use abdominal breathing (breathe deeply through your abdominal cavity or stomach) to reduce tension. Be the Incident Commander (IC) of your emotions Anxiety increases when your self-talk is negative and self-defeating. An example of negative self-talk is, “I’m a choker, I can never perform well when I need to”, which increases anxiety and decreases self-confidence. Notice when your self-talk becomes negative and learn to switch your inner voice to positive self-talk. You are the IC, so give yourself some words of encouragement. Deep breathing is an excellent technique to reduce muscular tension and focus on something positive Change Your Tactics and Strategy Anxiety or feelings or threat make you focus internally on your pounding heart, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms, which further increases anxiety. Offensive strategy. This internal focus is not a good type of focus for execution. Defensive Strategy. Great execution flows from being focused externally on the environment and reacting to the situation. Shift your attention externally to what is in front of you. Focus on the process of execution instead of the fear of failing. Use it to Your Advantage The excitement or fear you experience when under pressure can help you if you interpret it as a friend and not a threat. Always remember, nothing lasts forever... You are the incident commander!