The Demands of Being a First Responder: More Than Just a Job Title

The Demands of Being a First Responder: More Than Just a Job Title

Introduction: The Unspoken Reality of being a First Responder

Being a first responder is my primary career, where I work as a firefighter and an advanced emergency medical technician. This profession is not just a job for me; it’s a calling that I take immense pride in. However, many other professions require more than just a well-crafted resume. Some careers hold a profound meaning beyond the title they are given, and though there are many such careers, this article focuses on the one that I have loved and been a part of for over half of my life.

In an era where the ‘participation trophy’ culture prevails, some professions are stark reminders of the grit and resilience that form the cornerstone of meaningful impact. Unlike conventional roles, these careers aren’t just about what’s inked on your resume but about the grit that courses through your veins. This piece delves into the often unspoken rigorous demands of such professions. 

The Emotional Toll: More Than Just a Job

Let us start by directing our attention towards your brain. It is commonly believed that our emotions are seated in our heads, and given the nature of this job, it can be emotionally draining. How you deal with this toll is entirely up to you, but you must do so within your means. 

I think about the subject of emotions within the fire service this way. We all have a budget, and whether it’s money or time, we know how much we can spend on a particular item. The same goes for your mental budget. Mentally, it would be best to determine how much you can afford to give before you run out of emotional resources.

The world of a first responder is far from the average 9 to 5 grind. It’s a realm where every emotion is magnified. Every reaction could mean life or death. The ability to manage one’s emotions amidst the storm of adversity and danger isn’t just a skill. It’s a necessity. Whether holding back tears to assure a victim or mustering courage in peril, the emotional whirlwind is relentless.

The Physical Demands: Not Just Another Day at the Office

The toll of being a first responder isn’t just emotional. It’s also physical. Long hours, strenuous activities, and constant danger make up the daily lives of those who respond to emergencies. Maintaining peak physical fitness is about more than just looking good. It’s about being able to effectively help those in need or save a fellow first responder in a Mayday or RIT situation. It’s about being able to stay alive in hazardous situations and not only being able to help the public or the members of your department. Sometimes, you need strength, willpower, and guile to save yourself!

I always compare the self-saving moment to the safety briefing when you’re on a flight. “Place your mask on before you go to assist someone else.” You can’t save anyone else if you can’t save yourself. 

Additionally, first responders need to be concerned with the endurance of the job. Being a firefighter, I have encountered calls that lasted for hours. During such situations, I was expected to deliver high-quality service from start to finish, no matter how exhausted I was. I strive to maintain my fitness for my well-being and to be better equipped to handle any circumstance that may arise while on or off duty.

Sleepless Nights, Endless Days: The Time Commitment to a Career

Sleep is one of the most critical factors to your overall health. Getting proper rest is crucial to living a healthy life of balance, and it starts with recovery. Sleep is a luxury not often afforded to first responders while on duty. 

While the city sleeps, first responders are often awake and expected to deliver. The erratic schedules and sleepless nights testify to the sacrifices made in the line of duty. And while the world slumbers, the tales of midnight heroics often go unsung.

Taking proper rest is as vital as all other activities in your life. It’s a necessary commitment that you should make to yourself. Listen to your body and rest when it signals you to do so. There’s nothing worse than feeling exhausted and unable to concentrate when you need to be fully alert. Therefore, it’s crucial to avoid such situations by prioritizing rest.

I’ve been attempting to add a newer technique to my rest and recovery called “Non-sleep deep rest.” This practice is often achieved through meditation, mindfulness, or quiet contemplation. Added benefits include a unique set of benefits that can complement good sleep hygiene. 

Unlike sleep, where the mind is mainly unconscious, non-sleep deep rest allows for a heightened state of awareness while still promoting relaxation. The practice of NSDS can improve mental clarity, reduce stress, and enhance emotional well-being. 

NSDS is like hitting the ‘reset’ button on your mind, providing a fresh perspective and renewed energy without needing to sleep. First responders often face irregular sleep schedules and high-stress situations. Incorporating non-sleep deep rest can be a game-changer in maintaining mental and physical health.

Witness to Trauma: The Things We Can’t Unsee

Witnessing traumatic events is a part of the first responder experience, yet it’s a topic often swept under the rug. While these conversations are challenging, they’re essential and deserve in-depth exploration. Before anyone decides to embark on this career path, it’s crucial to understand the full scope of what they’re signing up for.

In your career, you’ll encounter sights and situations that are difficult to process and shake off later. These experiences inevitably shape how you view the world. However, it’s crucial not to let a few adverse incidents color your perception of humanity as a whole.

Recognizing the signs of trauma and knowing when to seek help is vital. But how do you identify that breaking point? That’s when your support system comes into play, a topic we’ll delve into in the next section.

Family and Loved Ones: The Silent Support System

The sacrifice of being on the front lines doesn’t just manifest in the traumas witnessed or the emotional toll taken; it often exacts a heavy price on personal relationships. Missed birthdays, forgotten anniversaries, and the absence of simple family dinners become the rule, not the exception. Yet, amidst the storm of duty and the emotional weight of what you’ve seen, the enduring bond of love must serve as your anchor.

Juggling the responsibilities of a first responder with the needs of a family is a high-wire act that demands more than just time management. It requires emotional intelligence and the same qualities that help you cope with trauma. 

Empathy, understanding, and support are vital in maintaining a healthy family life. Quality time, thoughtful planning, compromise, and a deep understanding of each other’s lives are the cornerstones of a happy home. 

Achieving this delicate balance is no small feat, especially when the job can be all-consuming. Therefore, consciously prioritizing your family enriches your life outside of work and fortifies your emotional resilience, better equipping you to face career challenges.

Raising the Bar: The Need for Higher Standards

The badge of courage that first responders wear should not distributed like a participation trophy. The honor of being a first responder should be earned through a crucible of rigorous selection and training. The process of proper selection ensures that only those genuinely fit for the role are entrusted with its immense responsibility. 

Recruitment processes that lead to hiring must be more than just stringent. The process should be comprehensive, multi-faceted evaluations to assess technical skills, emotional intelligence, resilience, and adaptability.

When the average person would fold under pressure in the face of adversity, we need the grit of a member who is not only trained for the situation. But can deal with the emotional rigors thrown at them at any given moment. 

While the following is only one example of a type of minor assault, we must have individuals who can handle being called names that do not match their given names. In high-stress situations, people can be called anything imaginable under the sun. We don’t want the person verbally attacked to react in a way that can make the situation even more chaotic. We need a calm and composed response under pressure, as this will ensure that our best selves are always on display.

There’s no room for mediocrity in a profession where every decision can have life-altering consequences. The selection process must be a crucible that tests a candidate’s mettle in every conceivable way—from their ability to make quick, sound judgments in high-pressure situations to their capacity for empathy and emotional support in the aftermath of trauma. 

The Road Less Traveled: A Journey of Courage and Commitment

When we opt for the less traveled road, we’re not just choosing a job; we’re committing to a vocation that demands extraordinary courage, dedication, and selflessness. This path is not for the casual traveler but for those willing to go the extra mile, serving their communities with an unwavering sense of duty. The focus shouldn’t be on seeking accolades or recognition; instead, it should be on cultivating a resilient spirit, fortified and ever-ready to answer the call when it comes.


Call to Action: Vet for Vocation, Not Just Occupation

For those in positions of hiring authority, it’s crucial to remember that you’re not just filling a vacancy. You’re selecting someone for a lifelong commitment to duty. Proper vetting is not a mere formality but a critical responsibility. Look beyond the resume and assess the character, the resilience, and the innate sense of duty that can’t be taught. We should refrain from hiring to fill positions merely. When it is time to hire, we should try our best to onboard career-dedicated and duty-bound individuals. Ensure the next person you bring into this fold is worthy of the less traveled road.


Additional Resources:

While I highly recommend my book as a comprehensive resource on the topics discussed in this article, it’s worth noting that numerous other books, podcasts, blogs, and vlogs delve into the complexities of being a first responder. However, since I authored this book, it’s the resource with which I’m most intimately familiar. In it, I expand on the subjects presented here and explore many more facets of this demanding yet rewarding career. If you want to dive deeper into becoming a dedicated first responder, please check out my book by clicking the link below.

Book Recommendation: “Hey New Guy! The Candidates Guide to a Long Strong and Healthy Career” by Severen Henderson


Severen Henderson is the Owner/Operator of Department3C. Please remember that this article may obtain Affiliate Links. The author may be compensated based on the reader’s purchase decision. You can connect with him on most social media sites: @iamsevy Or for business-related topics: @deaprtment3c. We want to keep in contact! So please visit our Website,, to see what we are doing! For e-mail inquiries, contact us at

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About Severen Henderson

Serial Entrepreneur Severen Henderson (@iamsevy) is the owner and operator of Department3C, a social media marketing agency. He's also a podcaster, content creator, copywriter, and public speaker. In his spare time (which is rare), he enjoys reading books on business and self-improvement. A quote from him is, "I want to help people share their message with the world."

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