What if I told you that tomorrow, on one of your travels you will 100% get a flat tire. You will be stopped for approximately 40 minutes, no one will get hurt and you will be back up and running. Maybe you get a flat, on the highway, and while you are fast enough to grab the wheel, you still collide with a vehicle beside you. Aside from a bruised ego, everyone is okay. The other person may have a bit of an outburst at you, but everyone will be fine and insurance will repair both the cars at the cost of a minor inconvenience. In knowing these outcomes, and knowing they are completely unavoidable, will you still feel as upset about it? You understand ahead of time that this does happen, and that there are tools available and in place to help you deal with the situation. Feeling less upset helps you to be more aware and deal with it more effectively. You might even be able to prevent a workplace accident/incident with the improved focus due to not being distracted by your earlier incident. First responders/military see and experience many events or incidents that happen daily. If I told you beforehand this horrible thing is going to happen. This is what you will see. This is what you will feel. This is what you will smell. In knowing this, will it affect you as much? If I told you that you aren’t alone, and others are having similar experiences would it be easier to find people to talk about it with? There are a few things at work here. First off, the first time you get a flat tire, and the 5th time look different. The first time you may feel stranded and unsure of where to start. Maybe you’re with someone else that has done it before and so they help you, and you learn it’s not the end of the world. Someone else has been there and can help. This is relatable to incident responses. The first time it happens, you have no “blueprint” to access or guide you. Your sensory systems get overloaded processing all of the environmental information and this will cause the “freeze” reaction. Depending on the severity of what this is you can’t afford to be stuck for too long. Simple self-talk goes a long way here. Look around. Ask yourself “what do I need to do?” Call for help? Secure a scene? Clear the area? When the same sort of incident/event happens again, your levels of awareness should be greater. Where we get caught is the unexpected event. You know what the tire feels like now as the vehicle pulls noticeably to the one side, you may even hear the tire wobbling. Instead of panicking and pulling off to the side right where you are, maybe you put the hazard lights on, drive slower, and pull off slightly farther down where you can get completely off of the road where it’s safe from other cars and the rocks kicking out of their tires at you. Finally, the most important analogy here. What if you have a car load of family or friends along on your ride? You want to deal with this flat tire as safely as you can, because their safety is riding on your judgement to maneuver the situation and fix it. Give them a safe area and the tools to help you with, and you get back on the road faster. Speak with the members of your team. If there are more experienced ones, draw from their knowledge. Take the good lessons, and understand the bad as well, so they aren’t repeated. Work thru some of these things yourself, or, if you have downtime re-create scenarios realistically in your group. Discuss the “what did you see”, or “how did you feel” during events. The answers may surprise you. You’ll learn things such as “I am not alone”, “I understand why you or I reacted the way I did”, “what does this look like as it unfolds in earlier stages so I can get ahead of it faster?” In doing this, you better mentally prepare yourself for the potential things that can happen in your profession in whatever context that may be. This will help cut down on stress both long and short term. It will give you the ability to gain more competence, keep you in the fight, and most importantly allow you to go home to your family and loved ones whole, being able to rationalize the day’s events. Will you still be affected? Absolutely. Being armed with better knowledge however will get you out of the emotional red zone faster. Sometimes you need to play with the jack and wheel wrench beforehand to understand how it works. Other times, it’s recognizing a safe area to perform the task. In this context can you find the best place to put that jack beforehand? To find that wheel wrench? When you’re driving down the road are there intermittent places to pull off that you notice? If you see a member of your team having trouble with the “tire”, don’t stand there and critique them. Get in there and help. First impressions are everything and work both ways. Maybe one day that other person may develop into someone great, and a great team player. Be part of the contributing factor to that. Does it always work out this way? No. But there’s always that potential. You’re both stuck there on the side of the road. Make the experience count, make it worth something.