Dena is a 9-year member of the Raleigh Fire Dept. and Wake County EMS. She was a police officer for 5 years before joining the fire dept. She is a graduate student researching firefighter behavioral health and prevention of firefighter suicides. Outside of work, she enjoys cycling, fitness and crossfit and is a founding member of NC Triangle Peer Support.
To avoid compassion fatigue and being tired and having a short temper, it's important to rest, take time for yourself, express daily gratitude, and have hobbies outside of work. Talk about your issues with someone, whether it be a mentor, friend, family member, or a professional therapist. Transcript: "You know, you can become numb to certain calls, certain experiences. And at times I'm grateful for my ability on a call or even after seeing something just to be numb and to kind of store it in memory and move on. So those things aren't bad. However, when it comes to compassion fatigue and being rude and tired and having a short temper, for me, I've just had to learn to rest, to take time to myself, to take time off, to have daily expressions of gratitude. I know it sounds cheesy, but there's so much data behind just daily expressions of gratitude, waking up every morning and truly being thankful for something and considering what it is that you're thankful and ensuring that it's not the same thing every day. And then again, having hobbies outside of work, whether it's cycling, reading, gardening, pickleball, whatever it is, make sure that there's something more to your life besides just the job. And then when things bother you, talk about them. Find somebody to talk to you, whether it's a mentor, it's a friend, a family member, somebody in the job, somebody out of the job, talk. If that doesn't help, it doesn't hurt to see a professional therapist. That's probably been one of the greatest things I've ever done in my career is just finding a professional to talk to. Great question. Yeah, about the techniques here, it was rad."
I would tell my younger self to not worry so much what other people think and instead focus more on my character, be myself, and work hard. Also, don't take everything so seriously and find a reason to smile and laugh every day. Transcript: "I've been in my career for 15 years and I would go back and tell myself not to worry so much about what people think. Worry more about my character. Worry more about what I think. I tried so hard early in my career to fit in, to live up to other people's standards. When I realized that the best thing I could do is be myself, live up to my standard and continue every day just to give 100% and to give the citizens all that they deserved. Another thing that I would tell myself is not to take it all so seriously. We have such an incredible job as first responders. Make sure that every day you find a reason to laugh. Don't take things so seriously. Laugh, love, enjoy your time. That to me is just, it kind of keeps me going now. So now one of the things I do is I just make a point every day to smile and find a reason to smile."
The best way to help your team through a difficult situation is to develop relationships with them beforehand, be there for them ahead of time and remind them that ups and downs are part of life. Make sure they have an outlet and someone they can trust to talk to about their feelings. Transcript: "This is one of my favorite questions because people always ask after something really difficult, what do you do to help? And believe it or not, the answer lies in what you do before that really difficult thing. It's about developing relationship with your teams, ensuring you know them, ensuring you know their families, what that's like. Do they have small kids? Do they have sick parents? You know anybody in the family who may remind them of this tough call so that you know who needs more or less support. And then it's being there for them ahead of time so they know that they can count on you and trust you. And after the event, it's more of a reminder that ups and downs are a part of life. These tough calls suck and it's okay. And then just making sure that they have an outlet and they have somebody nearby that they can trust so that they can just be true about what they're feeling and what they're going through. So really and truly, it's everything you do ahead of the tough call that makes the big difference after a rough call."
The biggest challenge is finding the balance between being yourself and continuously learning and improving. Transcript: "I don't know if I can answer this in 90 seconds. The biggest challenge is being yourself and owning who you are and having the courage to show up as you are, while also being in this career where you're constantly learning and improving yourself and knowing that nobody's perfect. We can always do better. I know the first five years of my career, I tried so hard to fit in and be one of the guys and I didn't realize I was eroding who I truly was. But I also now have learned just how important it is to be yourself, not to fit in, but to actually belong. However, the big challenge is how do you belong, bring your true authentic self to work, but also continue to learn and continue to be better every day. So that to me is definitely the biggest challenge is recognizing the importance of belonging and not focusing so hard on just fitting in."
I wish I had more knowledge on the importance of heart rate variability and how it affects recovery, aging, and performance. Understanding polyvagal theory and how to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is key for understanding how to increase one without sacrificing the other. Rest and mindfulness are important for increasing HRV and improving overall wellbeing. Transcript: "I think heart rate variability is so absolutely incredibly important and understanding the importance of heart rate variability and how it impacts our recovery, how it impacts our aging process, how it impacts our ability to take on more. So if there was something that I wish that I had more training on and more knowledge on it would be just understanding polyvagal theory, understanding how sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system have this like tug of war and how to increase one you have to increase the other. So many of us kind of just run ourselves ragged and we're afraid to rest and we just don't realize how important rest is. So definitely if there was an aspect of personal wellness I had more information and more training on it would be the importance of heart rate variability and why it's important not just hey spend more time in recovery, spend more time practicing mindfulness and sleeping, but why those things will actually make you perform better when need be."
There's a lot of gray area with the line between joking around and sexism, so it's hard to give an answer in a short period of time. Generally, it's important to remember that there are times when something is clearly sexist, but in most cases it's best to be aware of the gray area and strive for meaningful conversations and relationships in the fire service. Transcript: "Hey Liz, this is a pretty good question. What is the line between joking around and sexism? I saw you asked it a few days ago and I've sat on it because I really don't know that there is an answer I can give you in such a short period of time because there's so much gray area with this. There's so many other factors and variables that go in with regards to intent, relationship and all of that. We granted now we know there are some things that are sexism. They're outlandish, they're outright rude and then there's sometimes where it's joking and what we found is yeah, you can have black and white but when you live in a world devoid of the gray area, especially in the fire service, when you are strictly black and white, there is no joking around, no relationship building, no meaningful connection. You lose something. So joking is part of the fire service. It's really incredibly important. But I'm sorry, I right now can't really give an answer to the line because I don't think there is a line. I think there's a lot of gray area. But there are times where there's sexism and it's plain and simple and outright there."