Growing up as a kid in the 1980’s, I still reflect back to the movie “The Karate Kid”, where Mr. Miyagi is teaching Daniel how to balance on the bow of the boat and maintain the best position possible to not get knocked over. In the movie, as Daniel becomes more proficient at achieving his balance, Mr. Miyagi begins to rock the boat, which eventually makes Daniel fall off into the water. The importance of maintaining balance for karate is reinforced to Daniel in this lesson, but is later understood by him in a holistic perspective for life.
Many times, the life of a call/volunteer firefighter becomes a similar balancing act. The obligations and commitments of the men and women in the fire service can become overwhelming at times. In addition to their responsibilities at their respective fire departments, they have other time constraints from their primary jobs, significant others, children, family, friends, hobbies, continuing education, religious activities, and military duties. The challenges and pressures for many firefighters to maintain this work/life balance can contribute to low morale, poor performance, emotional crises, or leaving the organization altogether.
Leaders in call/volunteer organizations need to understand and be cognizant of these outside influences, challenges, and time constraints placed upon their personnel. It’s understood that recruitment and retention of personnel continues to be primary focus for many organizations. Providing an environment to help these firefighters succeed could help overcome some of these recruitment and retention challenges.
A high priority should be to establish, create, and maintain an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of family and the health and wellness of the individual. Department programs should provide the flexibility, versatility, and convenience to meet their organizational responsibilities but allow the time for other activities and interests. All members should be
encouraged to stay engaged in these other outside interests and responsibilities. This makes them no less accountable for their organizational responsibilities; however it establishes an understanding of support and commitment from the department leadership.
Individuals still need to use caution and not overextend themselves by taking on too many tasks that they may not be able to complete. Doing less, but doing things really well can provide increased satisfaction and greater organizational value. It’s important to embrace and nurture organizational teamwork that can enhance everyone’s ability to balance all of life’s challenges.
As individuals, we need to understand our own personal limitations and not exceed our capabilities. Determining your balance point so you don’t tip over will be critical to your organizational success and individual health. Don’t have any regrets wishing you spent more time with family, friends, or activities. Find the work/life balance that grounds you to your individual core values and will keep you from falling off the boat when it begins to rock.
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Fire Chief Christopher W. Norris has been a member of the Westhampton Fire Department since April 1994. He has served in numerous capacities in the organization up until his
appointment to Fire Chief in January 2007. Chief Norris is the New England representative on the EFO section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
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