By Shannon McQuaide
This year, I attended and presented at my first Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International. The quality of instruction, the level of commitment, and passion for the fire service at FDIC International was palpable from the opening ceremonies and classroom presentations to the hundreds of fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and military professionals milling about the conference center and exhibit hall. This was not my first fire service conference; I have attended and presented at several regional fire conferences, but FDIC International was an unparalleled experience for me.
Here, I discuss how Yoga biologically counteracts common cardiovascular stress and the differences between long- and short-term stress responses.
Since my return home to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, I can’t stop talking about Mike McEvoy’s speech on the future of EMS and how wearable devices and the use of Uber and Lyft to transport people in need of medical care will be disruptive. There were many other highlights at the conference, as well. Eric Hurst, a public information officer from the South Metro Fire Rescue in Denver, educated students on the use of social media to lead the narrative for all fire agencies following large-scale events as well as the do’s and don’ts of posting on social media. David Griffin, a battalion chief from Charleston, South Carolina, discussed post-traumatic growth and his own experience recovering from the deaths of nine of his fellow firefighters in a tragic furniture fire known infamously at the “Charleston 9.”
About 100 people attended my presentation on the physical, psychological, and financial benefits of yoga specifically tailored to firefighters. As part of the presentation, Division Chief David Dolson of the Roseville (CA) Fire Department led a 20-minute yoga session; this brief yoga session gave attendees the opportunity to experience for themselves how simple tools like consciously engaging the diaphragm while breathing can reduce the effects of stress and increase heart variability. They also learned how mindfulness can counteract the effects of depression and improve our ability to focus and make critical decisions.
Here, I run the class through a simple breathing exercise. Afterward, my guest speaker, Roseville (CA) Fire Department Chief Dave Dolson, discusses the benefits of regular practice of this exercise. I then go on to discuss how this breathing technique affects the body’s Vagus System.
At FDIC International, I was surprised to learn how many agencies currently engage yoga. When I started teaching yoga to firefighters in 2014, yoga did not appeal to many of them. However, in five short years, yoga is beginning to play an important role in supporting firefighters in several agencies. What impressed many in attendance was the idea of a yoga program designed uniquely for firefighters and, specifically, measures the positive change over time of firefighter’s behavioral health.
I am very much looking forward to next year’s conference. I plan to build on the success of this year and more thoroughly address how fire agencies can bring FireFlex Yoga into their communities. During this next year I will continue to refine the role of yoga and mindfulness for firefighters to bring the very best practices to FDIC International 2020. If you did not make this year’s conference, I highly recommend attending next year’s event.
Shannon McQuaide is a registered yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance and the founder of the FireFLEX YogaTM program. FireFLEX Yoga was developed through her work with the San Jose (CA) Fire Department, where she continues to lead FireFLEX Yoga classes. She is a certified functional movement trainer and has a master of arts degree in leadership and psychology. [email protected] http://www.fireflexyoga.com.