When I started working with first responders in 2018, I had no idea that this meant that I was entering an entirely different world. Being the wife of an officer, I really did think that I had an inside view, but it was obvious from the start that there was a lot more to this new world that I had to learn.
You definitely need a strong backbone in order to make it through your career beyond hot priority calls, shift work and how it affects your body and your family, admin stressors, politics. Now, there’s social media. And the list goes on. Through this time, I’ve noticed that some of the skills that first responders have acquired through their years of service to support them through their career and stay strong have also become some of their weaknesses.
And by weakness, I’m not talking about vices like drinking or bad habits. I’m talking about good habits. Things that you need on the job to keep you strong that also have another side to them that when it switches it become a weakness for you. What you know will make you stronger.
Diving into these weaknesses that I see in so many responders will help you see them for yourself. And help you make adjustments so that these strengths can become stronger and they do not then become a detriment to your career. Let’s dive in.
Your strength or your weakness number one is that you don’t give yourself enough credit for all that you do. And it’s making many of you think that you have nowhere else to go that you’re kind of stuck in this career because even if you wanted to, many of you don’t, and most of you don’t.
But when you don’t give yourself credit for all the education that’s not your formal school education, but when you have all of the tools and skills that you have acquired, when you don’t really understand the value in that then you start to feel like even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t have anywhere to go. And if you’re anything like me, I don’t like feeling stuck. That if I have a choice, I may choose to stay. But when I don’t have that choice then that’s where I start feeling controlled. That’s where I start getting resentment and frustration.
And I see that as well in so many different responders especially with the defunding that’s going on right now. Quite often that can put a first responder into a stressed state because they don’t feel they have anywhere to go if the job is taken out from under them.
So they’re there until they can, as long as they can. But if the job’s taken from them they may not know what they can do, what their options are. And quite often, a lot of the skills that you’ve acquired just feel they’re just a part of this job and they’re specialized and you can’t use them elsewhere, but yet you do definitely put yourself in danger to help others which is not present in most other jobs.
But when we start breaking this down, we start looking at your paperwork, your communications, the negotiation skills, your situational awareness skills, your adaptability to change course on the fly, specialty units. The things that the specialty units training for is unbelievable. And this goes for all like EMS, there’s so many different courses and specialties that you guys can take that can be transferred into other jobs, other careers as well as with fire.
So that’s where with this defunding. Like I just think the funding is so backwards because honestly all of you could really go and get a solid job.
Defunding is just going to leave them without so many amazing first responders like yourselves that have these phenomenal skills and want to do the job. So they’re biting themselves in the foot for any areas that are talking about defunding. Which brings me to Andy Labrum. So Andy labrum is a 30-year officer.
A lot of his career was spent in emergency management, public order, front lines. He worked on all kinds of different specialties when he was in his career. And when he left, he was lost. He didn’t know what direction to go. And he ended up having help from two or three individuals that helped him with resumes. Helped him be able to see the skills that he had acquired to be able to put into his resume and put into job interviews. And within three years of leaving the service. After 30 years, he was making twice. I think of his chief. Might be three times, but I don’t wanna overdo it. It’s definitely was twice the amount that his chief was making was what his income was making in this new job because of all of the skills that he had acquired.
And so Andy now has started paying it forward and helping other officers to be able to transition like he had. And he started a group called Blue Light Leavers in Facebook. You can also check him out on bluelightleavers.com. He started a group in the UK. That’s where he has originated. And he has grown so much that he still has his full-time jobs contract.
He also has a lot of other side businesses and he is now helping other officers understand what their value is. What their worth is. What they can do. So I know of guys who have joined his blue light levers group. He is in the UK. But he does have some postings and jobs and things for North America.
Not as often, I will say that, but what he teaches will teach you how to get a job. How to get a good, solid career outside of policing when you are ready. He has guys that are medical out. He has guys that have decided to leave and girls, sorry. He has officers who have decided to leave their career midway for many different reasons.
And he has many that are retired and are now looking for that next job, that next career. It has been eye opening, in his group watching the many officers that come in realize “Holy crap. I didn’t realize how many different skills I had acquired on the job.” And some of them decide after that, that they do want to stay in policing and they stay wild and some of them do transition out.
So just know that with this, what I am saying is that the biggest mistake that officers make is not understanding their worth. Not just officers, fire and EMS is really when I speak to so many of you, you don’t understand your worth. And that is kind of leading me a little bit into one of the other mistakes that I have here which is where many of you have adapted to society’s image of you.
Now that is not always a bad thing but when we stop and we look at it, fire is quite often put on a pedestal and EMS as well. And police on the opposite end are hated. And this can definitely mess with things also the way that you are all treated by services quite frequently where your opinions and thoughts aren’t always valued, especially those that are on the front lines. Where politics starts taking place in the higher that you do go up in the ranks. That those who really did want to make change once they get higher up and into all of the politics, aren’t necessarily able to do the things that they wanted to do.
And this does affect a lot of your morale, a lot of what you are perceiving as well as your value. So this goes into that first one where you don’t understand all of the skills that you have acquired sometimes too, with the way that society has trained you. So I think of this as well with fire and EMS, where you are put on a pedestal and with police that are always put down.
I know when my kids were little, my husband’s an officer, the kids’ books, they would always have a lot of the picture books. One or two pages dedicated to fire. There’d be fire chucks. There would be the odd ambulance but quite often it was mainly just firetrucks.
And then there’d be one page where they would have everything and firetrucks would still take up most of that page. So it’s quite interesting that right away from like kids being infants with these picture books, board books, that buyer is made very prevalent for them. And the thing with that though that I see is that fire guys feel so much pressure to stay on that pedestal and nobody can be perfect all the time.
Nobody can never make a mistake. And that does play with, if you are feeling the pressure of being that fire guy, feeling the pressure of EMS. Where you are thought that you should save every single person’s lives that you encounter and you try but there’s no way with everybody who’s coming to you in the emergency state that they’re coming to you that you are going to be able to and that can start messing with your head.
And then we dive into the hate. I know for me, this was a big one that I needed to learn and adapt to in starting the job. When black lives matters happened, I was not expecting the hate that came towards me and my business. I had been in mom entrepreneur groups, where they were so supportive of me, helping me with things in my business. Absolutely supportive because I was working with first responders.
And as soon as black lives matters happened and they knew that cops were part of that, I was shunned from so many groups. The things that were said to me in these groups, I hadn’t changed. I was still the same person. My neighbors who knew my husband and I, the things that they were saying and all of that. And I remember once my one neighbor posting something that was about how from a very unreputable source about how officers do so many bad things in their career. And it went into deep detail. This was supposedly an officer telling his story about all of the bad things that he’s done in his career and how bad it was.
And he realizes now that he’s out of service how bad those things were. There was assaults. There was so many illegal things this guy was talking about but just randomly going up and assaulting people. it was just such a horrible article that I was in tears when reading this because the neighbor that this was, was such a kind, caring neighbor or so I thought.
My husband and I were going out for a walk after I’d shown him this article . We were out and this neighbor walked by and was like, “Hey, how are you?” not even realizing what he had posted.
I didn’t know what to do. I said to my husband, why aren’t you bothered as much by all of this? And he looked at me and said, well, since day one on the job, I’ve been spit on. I’ve been yelled at. I’ve been disrespected. Most people don’t want me on most of the calls that I go to.
Those calls are where they are having their worst day. And someone else is calling them to come and fix a problem that they don’t want fixed. Or they don’t want the police meddling in this problem to be fixed. Or it’s somebody getting into trouble for what they’re doing. He’s like, this happens almost every single day on the job.
He’s like, how is this any different? And that stopped me. The things that you have to get used to on the job. For fire, the way that you are always treated as if you are on this pedestal and you are this hero. EMS where you need to save every single patient of yours. That pressure is huge. And then we get this other one where police officer, corrections officers are crapped on every single day of the job. All of these start playing with your mind. They start playing with your head and it played with my head.
I started distancing myself from neighbors. I started thinking, “Oh, nobody’s ever going to understand what I am experiencing or dealing with.” And my bubble became so small of who I would associate with and who I would really say anything to. And it was really hard. It was really stressful as I’m an introvert but this bubble became so like, I wouldn’t really even speak to my neighbors. They would be up front. I wouldn’t go up front. And it really, really played with me.
And then there was a time where my kids were helping their dad, we didn’t see him much during COVID and he had to go to yet another protest, he’s logistics as well. So he had to start preparing everything for the logistics, truck and so we went in to help him because we wanted to see him. So as the boys were charging all the batteries of radios and helping out, we in getting all the supplies, one of the guys there gave my boys two Toronto police hats and they were so proud of those hats. They wore them well, this was years ago and they have pretty much worn them every single day since.
And that was tough. I actually sat down with them and had a conversation about them about what might happen if people see that they’re wearing these hats. How to handle the hate. How to handle all these things. The thing is, is to this day almost two years later, I don’t believe that there is anyone who has to my kids face said anything negative.
Now people will definitely have their thoughts. But nobody said or did anything to my kids and never have. That made me stop and realize that, yes, we’re surrounded by this on social media. We see a lot of it. And yes, on the job every single day, my husband experiences this. The internet can be mean and on calls, people can have certain expectations. But people are often voicing these voices and voicing these thoughts because it’s what people are talking about on social media. When honestly, like my neighbor didn’t even remember or didn’t even think about what he had posted 30 minutes before, as he’s walking by us, he didn’t at all associate that with us.
It was more about this image that people have of what are police officers, what are firefighters. That when after this, I did actually speak with some of my neighbors and the ones that had said stuff didn’t even realize that it had affected us. They didn’t even associate us with being the officers they were talking about. Meanwhile, they didn’t even know any other officers. And it was interesting to start seeing this that I had shut myself out. I had isolated myself because of a story I had been telling myself about what they were thinking and saying that they were personally attacking us.
And it took really some calm, nice conversations to let them know how we were feeling, what things were affecting us for them to realize it and change that being said, it wasn’t every neighbor, there are still some neighbors that I do keep a little cautious around. I do keep my distance from because they didn’t understand that conversation that I had with them. But in really thinking about this of adapting.
Sometimes our behaviors to what society’s image is of, you understand that it is not of you. It is of not of you personally. This is of the image that social media has made of fire, of EMS, of police, of corrections, of what you guys, what they think they are without ever getting to know you. So trying to take that step away and separating it and making it so that it isn’t about you can really, really make a difference between you being able to continue to be social and not pulling yourselves away from others.
Which brings us to this third one. Which is where you have adapted to your normal. Now, you do see things every single day on your job that most humans would never have to see or talk about.
I mean, It was interesting last summer, I recall. Neighbors are upset and bothered about COVID and so fearful and our dinner conversation was about daddy may have to go to another city to go and help with looking for a body in a dump because they weren’t able to find it in our dump. And it led to this fascinating conversation about how our dump system is that they know on every street, every dumpster which pile that garbage is dumped in, in our city dump and then where that pile is taken to and where that pile ends up in a dump that is hours away from ours, where our city dump is taken because we can’t handle all of our garbage. And it was fascinating.
We’re having this whole conversation and talking about decomposing bodies and all of these things and talking about why daddy may be away and we don’t know how long he’s going to be away. And it’s just fascinating the difference of what our norm in our house, our conversations are. And what the norm and the conversations are with our neighbors and with other people. And the thing is, is that you do see people on the worst day of their life and people are repeating often the same mistakes over and over again. You’re often in houses where there’s domestics. You’re often in houses where there’s drug overdoses and the worst is when you see things that have happened to kids .
And you develop this bit of a humor that is created to help you with your coping. And I know that it’s definitely helped my husband and I through the years of dealing with things in the job for him, but then also now dealing with a lot of what I see and hear in helping and working with first responders.
So the thing is, is that this is also made you a little more high alert where you can’t shut it off. And then with that, your normal starts shifting. What you start seeing, what it like, what a civilian would deem as a bad situation, they have a much lower tolerance for what you would require or decide that a situation is in need of attention and vice versa. You’ll start noticing where a situation may need more attention and a civilian would be oblivious to it.
Your normal just becomes so shifted and so skewed. And the thing is, is that in your life, certain things they need to get to be very, very big. Very, very bad relative to what you see each and every day until you’re like, “Oh, okay, this actually needs attention.” And so relationships or our health can get to a point where things are almost irreversible. Where you’re having major medical struggles or relationships are at a point where they may be irreversible.
Before you start noticing that something really does need to change because relative to what you see each and every day on the job, it is not that bad. For EMS, the health issues that you see each and every day on the job are mild relative to your health issues. And you start to just develop this different normal and where I really see this affecting like pretty much every single responder is your sleep. So when you’re working crazy shifts, 12 hours, 24 hours is like your norm for shifts. And it leaves little or no time between your shifts to get any sleep.
So when you are on a 24 hour shift, busy station, even if you don’t have calls at night, you still need to be on. You’re not really getting those good sleeps. And then you start adding in OT. For COVID I know fire and EMS, I was hearing of 96 hours becoming almost the norm for a shift at a busy station. So stop and think about that for a second 96 hours straight. I mean, they were already working doubles already working 48s that when other stations would go out with COVID, they’d have to cover for those stations. And they were already slammed doing 48s. They’re starting to do 96s and that just became a norm.
Police are pulling doubles and then it’s a really quick turnaround before another 12. Throwing in court and it really becomes next to impossible on many of your shifts to actually be in bed for eight hours. So we start thinking that four to six hours of sleep is the norm. That’s acceptable. That’s okay. And even on days off, when you have more than eight hours of sleep then six hours still seems like a good sleep to you. Because that’s what your body gave you even if you tossed and turned a lot of the night, you were waking every few hours or you’re waking up like absolutely exhausted but you got six hours of sleep.
Quite often, many of you feel you’re accomplished. Many of you feel that was good. I got six hours. It wasn’t a good restorative sleep but you got it which is more than you normally get, or you have gotten. So you seem like it feels because your norm has so changed on how much you push your body that you think, “Oh, I can push it all the time.” And I can sleep all of the time. And then quite often when somebody is taking 60 or 90 minutes to fall asleep, and that’s your usual then when you have sleep where it’s like 30 or 45 minutes only that it took you to sleep, you think, “Oh, this straight I’ve had the jackpot.” But every day, you’re feeling tired. Every day you’re pushing from the moment your eyes open until it becomes part of your daily life.
And it’s almost like it’s just a part of the job. And many of you have accepted that this is normal. This is just how it has to be with the job. Is this crazy? So, I mean, shoot, what can you do? First off, let’s just start looking around and asking yourself, at what point would a civilian start reaching out to fix this? And ask is what I’m thinking or believing because the job has made it my norm? Like, would this be acceptable for a civilian? And start thinking about it.
Like ask yourself before I became a responder, would I have been okay with this? Because everything is subjective. It is all different. There is no right or wrong answer and it will be different based on every situation. I mean, we were out at a school event that was at a triple A hockey, hockey game. And while we were there, one of the parents was giving their nine year old maybe eight at that time. Actually, oh gosh. It was earlier than that cause we’re talking pre COVID. So we’re going back at least three years. So he was at least seven or eight year old, giving him like a $10 bill and this kid was going with a $10 bill in hand. Not hidden, not in a pocket, not anything just going down and holding it in his hand while he was going to get food.
And the reason I know we didn’t hide it was cause he had in his hand when he left. He came back like 10, 15 minutes later and said to his dad that they didn’t have the one thing he was looking for. And he still had the bill in the exact same hand, in his same position as he had left. And I’m thinking pedophiles. I’m thinking all this other stuff and would I have allowed that had my husband not been a first responder? Probably not. So everything still is relative as to what people will be okay with and not okay with of doing. But that is where it’s really good to ask yourself is would I’ve been okay with this before I started on the job?
So would three months in a row of six hours sleep, struggling to fall asleep, waking up mid sleep, waking up thoroughly exhausted. Would that have been okay before I became a responder? So if you start viewing it in that view then you can start really seeing if within your value set, your way of thinking, would this have been okay before the job? And as I said there’s no right or wrong answer. It really is up to you.
But I do find it quite interesting when I give a list of what I call the rundown responder, where you are tired and wired, waking mid sleep, exhausted, gut issues, mood swings, no more motivation and drive, repetitive injuries like the list is big. I start going through this and many responders say that they have some if not all of the characteristics of this rundown responder. And then I go through the resilient tactical athlete, which is where I work at getting them towards in my program where they are falling asleep, easier. They’re staying asleep. They’re waking up with energy. They’re repairing regardless. I mean, if you’re doing 24 hours, you are going to be up but we need to make sure that on your days off you’re healing and repairing. Making sure that when you do get naps or small times to sleep at work on shift that there is best of a quality of a restorative sleep as possible.
So we’re not going for perfect but with these resilient tactical athletes, their mind is clearer. They’re able to think. They’re getting the reports done quicker. They are motivated. They’re feeling that adrenaline rush in their workouts again. Their body heals and repairs. They’re not getting repetitive injuries. Their moods are more stable. Their anger is warranted when they get angry. They’re not frustrated by the job anymore. They’re back doing things that they used to like to do in their days off, that is a resilient tactical.
And when I’m going through these characteristics, most of these responders will really resonate with the rundown responder. The sleep, the exhaustion, the no motivational drive and they barely have any from this resilient tactical athlete list. The thing is, is that even though they have so many on this rundown responder list and they have hardly any of the resilient tactical athlete. They will still sit there and say, “Hmm yep. But I’m not bad enough.” Like for EMS, you guys see with EMS thinking, “Yeah but my health’s not there yet.” “Yeah. I’m not having as bad of issues or struggles as many that I see every day.”
When you’re struggling with relationships, we don’t think that these struggles are as bad as the calls that you guys are on. And so you think, “Hmm but I’m not bad enough yet.” My norm has really slid down this slide to where your norm is at a point where you are way more accepting of bad behaviors, of health struggles than pretty much every other career out there. And the interesting thing is that, “Yeah, you’re not thinking you’re bad enough yet.” So would a civilian think or would you before you were on the job, think that six hours of sleep where it takes you 60 minutes to fall asleep, waking every few hours and still waking up exhausted is a good sleep? I don’t think so.
So the question is, why do you? And that’s where my theory comes from is that it is because that’s where your normal is. Your normal has skewed. And the thing is, is that sleep deprivation is now being linked to suicides. Many who are sleep deprived are committing suicide. This is not just first responder. This isn’t just first responder research. This is research that’s even been done on civilians. And they’re finding that suicide rates have gone up with sleep deprivation.
And then also with sleep deprivation. So getting six hours of sleep or less for three months straight, you start making more ethical mistakes. A lot of different mistakes on the job and the increased use of excessive force on the job which can cost you your career. It can cost your life or someone else’s life, a colleague, civilians.
So I’m asking this because I care. When should behaviors that put you into a situation like this, a situation where your risk of suicide goes up, a situation where you can make more ethical mistakes on the job or excessive force increases on the job, which can be the difference between life or death for you on the job. When should these behaviors that put you into these situations become your norm? Where does that scale end with that norm? So I’d really like you to think about that for a little bit.
So let’s dive into this last strength or mistake that I do often see with first responders. The thing is, is that you all put everyone else first and on the job quite often, that needs to happen. You are often running into burning buildings. You are running into situations where patients aren’t in danger for EMS. There is a huge selfless piece to what you do and you need it. You need it in order to do your job. If you would not go into that burning building, if you would not go into a situation to save somebody. In EMS, if you hid from the bullets and did not go towards the bullet shooting then you would not be a first responder. So this does have to be a big part of who you are and it is a big strength until it starts affecting your family.
So some of the mistakes that I see too is always saying yes to OT. Not booking any appointments for yourself or not actually working on any of the health issues that you are experiencing or some of the mental health issues that you’re experiencing because it takes time away from your family. And you are already away from your family so much that you feel guilty in going off to an appointment or going off to do something else for yourself or feel guilty spending the money on yourself.
So the thing is, is that then you become more exhausted. Your moods increase. Your relationship, struggle more. You become less happy. You don’t have any more joy. Motivation and drive decreases. Anxiety, depression increases. And you’re not who you want to be at home or at work. So I’m just wondering, how does that become a selfless act when this snowball effect does start affecting everybody else? So there is a lesson that I do teach in my program and it’s one that I put in there and I didn’t realize how important it would be and how many first responders it would affect. It’s called, “Are You Cheating On Your Spouse?” And what it is, is it’s asking you, where are your priorities? Are they your family or are they the job?
And most that I work with say that their family is their priority. And then I ask them to show me on paper, how that is. And they start looking at all of their overtime. They start looking at all of the times that they choose to go to work instead of being at home. And I do recall one guy saying like he’s fire and he is like, I realized I’m cheating on my wife and her name is and I can’t remember it was his truck’s name. And her name is this. He’s like, I’ve never looked at it this way before.
The way he’d always looked at it was that they were short. And if he didn’t work the shifts then they would be short and they wouldn’t have anybody to go out on calls. And when he stopped to start looking at it, I’m like, yes, but there’s nobody helping at home. Your kids, aren’t getting what they need from you. And your spouse isn’t getting what they need. You’re not getting your rest in recovery.
And so somebody at the end, there’s always a cost. That’s what I say to my husband. There is always a cost to everything. There is a cost. Yes, in taking care of yourself. There is a cost in saying no to OT. And yes, sometimes that does mean that your colleagues do end up taking up the slack but it was interesting cause this one individual, they were saying that they realized that they’re always the first to be asked because they’re always the one that says yes. And so nobody else was ever asked.
He started looking at it and he’s like, ” I was resenting the fact that other people weren’t doing it.” And I felt that I had to but then he started realizing it too that they were so short staffed that if he always covered these shifts and these shifts always got covered then why would admin make any changes? Why would admin start figuring out “Oh shit, we have a problem here. We need to problem solve. We need to start you know, either hiring more.” Which is a struggle for many services right now cause a lot of people don’t want to be first responders which is an episode in this self but they’re also not like adjusting schedules accordingly. They’re burning everybody out. They have so many people on medical leave and instead of trying to be preventative to not get people out on medical leave, they keep increasing your OT, increasing your shifts and burning everybody out.
So it just becomes suspicious circle where you’re enabling them. Kind of like with a child where you tell the child that “No, they can’t do something.” And then the child knows if they push and push and push you enough, you’ll give in. Then that child is just always going to push you all of the time until they know you’ll give in. And then that’s what is happening quite a lot in services as well with a lot of that OT and things is they’re not being forced to change their behavior because of many of you being selfless.
Now I get that some of you may need the finances and the money and all of that stuff. I do realize that first responder pay is all over the map in Canada. It’s a lot more regulated here. And it is a really good income but that’s where too, there’s a cost to everything. My husband and I, we lived off of his first class pay even once he moved up all the way to the top level for years and years, we lived off of a budget of his first class.
So it’s possible to do, we just adjusted the way that we lived and the way that we do things. So this cost to everything, either you have to sometimes change the way that you are living or you do take the cost of doing overtime. And that is a hundred percent your choice but it is understanding that there are the consequences there as well and those can also be affecting your family. Affecting the way that your relationship with them, affecting your recovery.
So it’s up to you to definitely choose which cost is the priority for you. And for some, it might be a short term. I need to do this OT. We’ve figured out a plan. We need to just pay this off or do this and then I can stop doing it, or then I can decrease it. There’s always a choice in there. And that’s the thing that I would like you to understand from this episode here is you do always have a choice.
You have a choice in everything that you do. You have a choice in every way that you react. So what you do is tough each and every day. It’s tough. No hands about it. It’s absolutely tough but no one is the person that they were five years ago. No one. So you are going to change. You are going to adapt. Not just because you are a first responder and everything that happens on the job, you would be changing and adapting any ways if you were out of the job as well.
Nobody is ever the same person that they were five years ago. So you have that choice in who you want to be in five years. The job will change you but that can be for the better. So do you want to work on learning about all of the skills that you have acquired on the job and be happy because you know that you are in this job because you want to be? Or do you wanna feel like defunding or no other options are forcing you to stay? What would you like? Quick side note on that I am going to be bringing on Andy Labrum for an interview where we are going to be diving into this and teaching you more about your worth. About what you guys have acquired on the job then the other one is how are you going to deal with society’s image of you.
Are you going to let them decide who you are and what you should believe in yourself? Or are you going to decide? Then the third one is, do you want to create norms for yourself that could cause harm to yourself, your colleagues or civilians? Because you didn’t check if your norm, if your normal had skewed too far from that of what you would’ve done before you got on the job. And lastly is putting everyone else’s needs first the secret to your success, happiness in that of your family.
The answer to these questions will really shape who you will be in five years. What choices are you going to make? You are the only one that can decide but know that you have complete control as to where you will be in five years.