By John N. Buckman

In the volunteer fire service, burnout is not only a common occurrence, it is probably one of the biggest reasons that volunteers leave the service. Surprisingly, however, the more you enjoy the fire department and the more seriously you take being a member and being a great firefighter, the more vulnerable you will be to burnout.

Therefore, while it is important to be involved and take the job seriously and meet the demands of the department on a daily basis, it is equally important that you make sure that you care of yourself and your family. You must take care of yourself at work and at home to prevent stress from getting the best of you.

Try these five tips to guard against burnout so you can maintain a level of enthusiasm and commitment that will allow you to serve the fire department in a manner that you and the department can be comfortable with:

  1. Don’t take the fire department too personally. The department operated before you arrived, and it will operate after you leave. If you think that you are indispensable, this attitude will increase your risk of burnout.
  2. Don’t take the fire department problems home. Give the fire department your complete attention while you are on duty or at the department, but leave it there when you go home.
  3. Find ways to reduce stress. Work out!
  4. Get help from others. Remember that your fellow volunteers are going through the same stresses that you are and, as such, those members who have done it longer should be able to share with you how they have survived in the department and at home.
  5. Remember the “good news” and the “good responses.” When you confront problems, remember that they are just that-problems. They are not personal and they are not a burden–they are a fact of life. Work the problem, develop a solution, put the solution into action, and let the results show you how “good” you really are. Be satisfied that you can solve your own problems. Let other people’s problems remain their problems. Although you may work with them in developing solutions to their problems, their problems are not your problems.

John M. Buckman is chief of the German Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, Indiana, where he has served for 22 years, and the immediate past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He was instrumental in forming the IAFC’s Volunteer Chief Officers Section and is past chairman. He is an adjunct faculty member in the National Fire Academy residence program, is an advisory board member of Fire Engineering, and lectures extensively on fire service-related topics.