The other side of responding to wildfires

By Chief Sam DiGiovanna

We are seeing more frequent and more explosive wildfires than ever before. Today’s fires place incredible stress on our crews and require sophisticated multiagency response. For this reason, it’s important we train for wildfire deployment not only within our own organizations, but also with mutual aid cities that we will be responding with on strike teams.

But there is a different and equally important side of preparing for wildfire deployment that you may have forgotten about: Your family!

As we all know, today’s wildfire deployments can last for days, weeks and even months. This means more strike team deployment and more time away from the family during the summer months. That places a lot of pressure on the spouse remaining to manage the home and kids. But good preparation can help ease the burden.

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok, a strategic wellness director with Lexipol, has developed four videos to share with your agency on getting families ready for the busy wildfire season. In them, she provides some helpful advice to support firefighters and their significant others on the home front.

Every fire chief wants their personnel to respond quickly, serve effectively and return safely after a deployment. Whatever the incident — wildfire, earthquake, flood, civil unrest — knowing your family has developed and trained on a plan (just like we do for fires and other disasters) will give them the mental boost of knowing what to do and what resources are available.

It helps to discuss deployments with your spouse in advance. One good strategy is to come up with a “needs agreement.” Each spouse writes three to five things they need from the other while one of them is on an assignment. For example, “I need you to check in with me daily,” or “I need you to let the kids know I’m safe.” Once each spouse has reviewed each other’s list, both will know what to expect while one of them is away, and what will happen when they return home.

The plan should extend beyond the deployment, as well. It’s important for firefighter spouses to understand the impact of an assignment that lasts for several days or weeks. Wildfires are no walk in the park. They take a lot out of you mentally, physically and emotionally, and usually require some rest and transition time post-deployment. A firefighter may even have to report back to work the very next day on their normal assigned shift.

Be open with your spouse and you’ll both have the ability to “adapt, improvise and overcome” during these times. Wildland fire deployments are not going away; in fact, they’re increasing.

Chief Sam DiGiovanna is a 35-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. Passionate about public safety and risk management, he also is a consultant for Lexipol & Fortress North America Fortress