Commentary, Health & Safety

Leaders & Self Care: It’s a Matter of Survival

By Todd LeDuc

This past weekend I had the opportunity to reach out to two colleagues and friends who serve as chief of departments of metro fire departments in the United States. Both of them were dealing with significant crisis issues within their departments. Both of them noted that as a recently retired chief from a metro department I could related to the “emotional exhaustion” from leading through times of crisis. I reminded both to prioritize their own wellness to assure that they would be physically and emotionally well to continue to support the department. Which leads to pen this article reminding all first responders and especially chief fire and law enforcement officers to focus on the importance of self-care as often time we focus on supporting those we lead and their families as well as the community that we forget or do not prioritize are own health and wellness, which can have disastrous consequences both physically and emotionally.

A health diet has been associated with better moods, higher energy and lower depression rates. Additionally, exercise has demonstrated tremendous benefits as increasing blood flow, boosting learning and memory as well as having cardioprotective and cancer risk reduction benefits. Healthy and adequate sleep has been shown to increase mental acuity and improved cognitive function as well as improved empathy not to mind the physical and behavioral benefits. (“ Managing Yourself, Dr. Palenda Neale) When we are under tremendous stress, our “amygdala”- the area of the brain responsible for the “ fight or flight” autonomic nervous system response takes over. This response, diverts resources from the prefrontal cortex area of the brain or the portion that is responsible for logical reasoning, problem solving, decision making and will power. The ability to de-escalate your stress by even simple and short “ time out” periods and focus on “me” time or “us” time with family can assist in problem solving and creative thinking to better approach and support solutions.

Think about your roadway to leadership, where you ever taught about self-care or even more so what that includes and means. In fact just now, “work life balance” is becoming a topic of presentation to national to first responders and has been well received recently when presented to the International Association of Fire Chiefs Safety, Health & Survival virtual training program.

It is important to identify what activities or “micro breaks” best work you and provide a short restful diversion and power boost. Even setting a daily alarm to include five minutes of mediation of mindfulness or go for a short outdoor walk to refocus. It can be as simple as adding “micro break” time to your calendar each day, block out two ten minute blocks to allow a refocus. Staying hydrated with adequate amount of water is also important to aid in wellness and mental readiness.

Additionally, all too often leadership being all time consuming and demanding we do not focus on our own physical wellness. The importance of an occupational firefighter medical physical and regular lab work as well as addressing modifiable factors of health such as weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, elevated sugar are key to wellness and longevity.      

Finally, leaders lead by example. Actions matter and by setting the example of self care as a priority sends a powerful message to those that you lead that  taking care of ourselves is valued.

Chief Todd J. LeDuc (Ret)  retired after 30 years of service as executive  assistant fire chief of Broward County, FL , a career internationally accredited metro department.  He is now the Chief Strategy Officer for Life Scan Wellness Centers, the Nations largest provider of first responder physicals. He  has served on the Board of  Directors of the IAFC Safety, Health & Survival  and is editor of Fire Engineering book, Surviving the Fire Service. He is also a peer reviewer for  both agency  and professional  accreditation and designation.  He is a designated Chief Fire Officer, Fellow in the Institute of Fire Engineers and holds a masters degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership. He can be contacted at [email protected]