How a San Francisco firefighter builds trust and conquers fear. with Denise Baily
This time we are talking with Denise Bailey. For the last 20 years she has been a firefighter in San Francisco and she has seen it all. We are going to talk about trust and being part of a team where you have to go to the extreme on a daily basis. How to have confidence in yourself and your gear. We will also discuss how she deals with stress, death and emotional health.
Denise has been a firefighter in San Francisco for over 20 years now. She has seen it all and if she hasn’t, she has talked about it with her brotherhood. When she is talking about her colleagues, she refers to them as brothers, sisters or brotherhood. This is because you literally live in a house together when you are on call and you become so close with each other. It’s like a normal household which you stay at for a minimum of 24 hours and everybody has their own tasks. You live with individuals that can have very different opinions sometimes. But no matter the differences, the moment that call comes in, everybody gets up. Because at the end of the day, they all share the same core value: “We are here to help.”
That shared mission is what makes trusting the team easier. Denise compares it with being on a sports team, they all go for it. The lieutenant is the coach and tells them what to do and what to bring. They have to do it without question. Everybody has their role and knows what they are responsible for.
For a firefighter, tr
ust is multilayered. Next to trusting her team, she has to rely on herself and her equipment. A good home routine makes sure she can trust her equipment. She has to check it multiple times a day to make sure everything does what it’s supposed to do. Training, experience and time have thought her that it’s possible to trust herself. “You have to find your superpower” she says.
For Denise, it’s her ADD that allows her to think about different scenarios in just a few minutes. In normal life, it’s called overthinking but in her field, it’s a blessing. It makes her feel confident, prepared and it’s a way to deal with the adrenaline.
When a call comes in, it takes a few minutes before you arrive at the location. During the ride, adrenaline builds up and you get in a fight or flight mode. Sometimes, a call turns out to be nothing. You end up going back to the base with all that adrenaline left in your body. It’s very important to release those chemicals in your body because otherwise, your body will pay the price. Denise has thought herself to get rid of the adrenaline the moment she gets back by going for a run or hitting the gym.
It is not just at work but real life stresses her out as well. She tackles this with cardio, cold showers and she even bought a sauna, which she uses every day for 45 minutes. On top of that, she keeps track of her sleep and she uses a cold mattress to improve her quality of sleep.
For years she took her body for granted but then she realized she had to fight to keep herself healthy. Not just her physical health but also her mental health. She had a traumatic childhood and became suicidal. Her work as a firefighter was a daily trigger for her PTDS. She went to see a psychiatrist and had several treatments. By doing this she learned to listen more carefully to her own voice and body. This was the beginning of a new journey for Denise. When at work, she would say to people; “We are here to help you, we got you”. Now she could finally own it and be there for herself.
On the job, Denise has to bring her best self because these people are having the worst day of their life. Some people even die at the scene. Death is something she sees and thinks about daily. For her, even going to work means she could die. By acknowledging the hardship of death and keep talking about it, she is able to deal with it.
Being around death so much has also created a wanting to live. This is the biggest lesson she learned over the years. Now, she is on a mission to live a life she can happily look back on and inspire other people to fully engage in their own life. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
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