Embrace Fear

If you are one of these guys that has a "I Fight What You Fear" t-shirt, this post is probably not for you.  Nothing bad, but I have to laugh at those shirts because in more than a few occasions, those I see wearing them would be crapping their pants at some of the things I have done.  When my kids ask what I am afraid of, I tell them that I am afraid of losing them, or seeing them hurt, but otherwise, I fear nothing.  When a friend asks what I am afraid of, I usually just glare at them over the top of my glasses.  But don't think that fear doesn't pop up when it needs to.

Fear is there for a reason.  Since God didn't put a gauge on our bodies anywhere with a red line on it, I think He gave us fear to warn us that we are moving into uncharted territory or to remind us of the last time we tried to go there.  Some of us, however, have short memories when it comes to fear.  Something as subtle as like what happened to me yesterday should have triggered a fear reaction.  It didn't.  Today, I pay.  (Really bad sunburn).  Maybe next time I will respect the fact that I am of European descent and we don't fare well in the sun without a little help from Coppertone.

Fear must be considered in context.  For us, it is normal to be kneeling in a hall with heavy fire rolling out of the door ahead of us.  It is also normal to have a little fear when we open the nozzle and nothing comes out.  For us, it is normal to be walking into a hot zone loaded with methyl ethyl death.  It is also normal to have a little fear when we experience a suit breach while in that atmosphere.

It isn't fear we should fear, but what we do with it when we get it.  Taking fear and understanding it for what it is, we should convert it into knowledge.  "I was here before and something bad happened.  Do I want to repeat that or not?"  We shouldn't ignore it, but relate to it and find ourselves quickly analyzing if our judgment is impaired, or if we need more information, or if we see an opportunity to change the outcomes from the last time we had this scenario.  In other words, ignoring fear is not intelligent.  Understanding fear is.

Things don't have to go wrong for us personally to appreciate fear.  I look at some of the monumental emergency scene screw-ups made by chief officers in the history of time and I fear making those same mistakes.  Thus, I take precautions not to repeat those mistakes and subsequently, I change the outcome.  I am not paralyzed by fear.  Fear does not cause me to panic.  Fear sends off a warning bell; not even that, really, more like a subtle chime in my head, that we are about to tread on dangerous ground.  Other than that, I have not conditioned myself to ignore fear, I have learned to regard it as a last minute gut check that what I am about to do is the right thing.

The thing I fear, really, is people who have no fear.  For whatever reason: stupidity, machismo, lack of experience, failure to observe worst case scenarios, etc., those with absolutely no fear are often the ones whose aftermath I have to clean up.  They are the ones I have to rescue out of that confined space because they charged in without thinking of the consequences.  They are the ones I have to activate a RIT for because they put themselves into an untenable situation. They are the ones who shoot off their mouth with no consideration of the consequences and now I have to un-fuck their fuck-up.  People with no fear keep me busy.

Between our own people and the civilian population, it is my observation that in that ever-turning wheel of Karma, those who have no fear end up being the ones huddled in the entangled mess of a car, begging for you to get them out.  Then they really know what fear is all about.  If you aren't afraid of anything, you need to take extra precautions the next time you engage in something considered dangerous by the general public.  Sometimes fear is cloaked by the lack of common sense.

Take fear for what it is and use it to improve your situation. You may consider fear to be your friend, but it is present for all of us, and it should translate into respect for the situation and an understanding of the consequences, not just for you, but for those of us who have to clean up your mess when you are finished.

  • Tim Lasley

    That is the 2nd or 3rd article I have seen on this subject. You are spot on. Fear is normal response. We have to remember rational thought is not fully developed till 25.. There we go.. Good article

  • Peter Lupkowski

    I am the “Chicken Little” of my department. As the designated Safety Officer I have enough fear for everyone, but the adage common sense is no longer common hits home more than we’d like to admit. More and more I see us relying on our institutional memory to avoid or deal with problems. But we all have to leave sometime.

    Panic serves no one but the hyper-vigilance accorded to my fear seems to keep my brain working, even when the body slows. That does help.

    Thanks for further confirming my observations about the fearless bunch.

  • Facebook User

    I ain’t scart a nuttin! Except maybe people finding out I’m actually no fan of heights, fire scares the pants off me, blood sucks, especially other people’s when its on me, oh, and writing-letting everybody know what’s inside, now that is something to fear! Nice post Mick, thank you.

  • Dave Werner

    I have found that those who proclaim fearlessness, are the ones who are filled with fear. As you put it so well, fear is not a bad thing. It’s what we do with that fear which is important. I have been reading up on Stoicism, and according to the Stoics fear is an irrational reaction we have to an external event. We experience fear when we decide that an external event is going to cause us harm. Not to be confused with what the Stoics call “pre-emotions”, what we refer to as sympathetic nervous system responses (fight or flight). The Stoics say even the Sage experiences these pre-emotions. Fear, however, is removed from the life of a Sage. I speak for myself that I will never reach the level of a Sage (nor do I want to), but I think it is important to remember that fear is something we construct. It is controllable. Forgive me if I misquoted any of the Stoics, I’m still learning. Great post!

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.
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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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