Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Coping with Stress: An Ethnography of Firefighters

Ryan Licht



Coping with Stress

An Ethnography of Firefighters

When I was younger, I always wanted to be a firefighter like my father. As a child, I am videos and images of firefighters doing amazing things and that nothing in the world could affect them. However, there is a dark side to firefighters that many don’t know or understand. A large portion of firefighters suffer from a side effect that comes from doing all those daring rescues.

While my father was a firefighter, I got the chance to visit the fire station many times. I will never forget the comfort and relaxed atmosphere I received from there. Quite specifically, I will never forget their comfy run down couch they had at the station.  Life at the station is described by Alex Rubenstein as laid back and a place for camaraderie. This correlates with my personal experiences with the station. The station exists as a safe haven from the chaotic world that they face every day. It serves as a home, a counselor, and a place to unwind. With the firefighters pulling 24 hour shifts, they are able to gain relationships and a strong sense of solidarity. Any relationship begins at the station is strengthened through the challenges they face outside the station.  Although the station gives off a calm and relaxed atmosphere, it can change in a moment’s notice.

Once the call is made, the station becomes a place that would seem to contradict its previous description. The entire station is blasted into action with everyone moving with a sense of urgency. Each fire station has a team whose members need to work closely together when responding to calls. Trust and the ability to work together are of the utmost importance. Additionally, working together helps create a support group to help coupe the life threatening situations. More so, the firefighters tend to gain resilience to the stress.  “You get used to it. I mean, there have been a number of times where I was eatin’ dinner, and right in the middle of dinner get a call and go over and somebody has died. I mean you just get so used to it, you see it so much of it that it doesn’t even bother you anymore” (John  169). The routine the firefighters go through numbs the shock of stress from freighting events. However, the firefighters do have ways to deal with any stress they do gain from their experiences.

Firefighters deal with stress in a number of way is to talk to the CISD team, fellow firefighters, police officers, and doctors. The other way to handle stress is through pranking one another. Pranks are essential in keeping the laid back atmosphere the station gives off. It is an important coping mechanism for firefighters. Pranks and joking work especially well because most firefighters are men, and men often use pranks and joking as a way to structure interpersonal relations and manage a hierarchy.

In conclusion, a large portion of firefighters suffer from a side effect that comes from life threatening situations. However, there many methods that the firefighters use to cope with stress. This can come from the atmosphere of the station or pranking the firefighters use on each other. Finally, we shouldn’t act as if firefighters are invincible. They are just as human as we are and deserve respect for the danger they face every day.

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