Attitude is all

Published:  01 September, 2008

Heather Wright, co-founding director of Leading Light, believes that to be a fit and able firefighter requires looking after the mental as well as the physical aspects of the body. Ensuring you have the right mindset is another key way to ensuring you are operating at the best of your abilities.

Leading Light is a company that specialises in behavioural analysis, and co-founder Heather Wright has recently been working with Cleveland Fire and Rescue. Since doing so, the brigade has for the first time registered an amazing zero preventable deaths. Wright explains more: “The whole point of what we do is to change people’s mindsets. When I hear the phrase ‘preventable death’ I think, well, if it’s preventable then something is wrong with the mindset. The goal wasn’t to reduce Cleveland’s preventable deaths to zero but it’s a side effect of the training. It’s all about making sure that everyone is committed to doing the best possible job they can every time.”

Wright likens being a firefighter to an athlete, except there are no clear rewards for firefighters: “a firefighter has to constantly be in good shape – both physically and mentally – but at the end of the day they don’t get medals or cups like a sports star, they just have to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event. So, even if they save a life someone’s home might be ruined. It makes it hard to focus on the positives. Keeping a clear and focused mind that understands the challenges and difficulties of the job – but is always prepared – is a vital part of being a firefighter. It’s all about asking yourself, ‘how can I be the best possible firefighter I can,’ so that when the next call comes in, you’re ready and able to handle whatever it might be.”

Carol McClutchie, Director of Corporate Services at Cleveland Fire Brigade, explains why her brigade brought in Heather to talk to the firefighters: “We wanted to engage the firefighters and help change their attitudes to improve their psychological well being. For physical fitness we carry out drills and so on, but this is about targeting energies. Leading Light really helped do this and give our firefighters positive attitudes.”

The change in attitudes helped lead to the creation of new initiatives, driven by firefighters within the force. ‘Learn and live’ for example – a scheme that seeks to reduce Road Traffic Accidents – evolved from an idea promoted within Cleveland Fire Brigade and it is now a national initiative. “It’s all about helping those on the front line feel listened to. The balance between mental and physical well-being is very important and they benefit each other, so it has been great to help our staff realise this,” says McClutchie.

The feedback from those who have benefited from Leading Light’s course underlines its impact. Barry Waller, Head of Fire Engineering, describes it as the most memorable and useful course he’s ever attended during his career in the brigade, “Leading Light is about adopting a positive mental attitude in everything you do, and making the best of what you encounter in every day of your life, particularly when you’ve no control of the situation you’re in.”

Waller never lets the pressure of work get on top of him any more, “Sometimes the only thing you can change is your attitude. For example, you might find yourself stuck in a traffic jam whilst on the way to a pressing appointment. As you worry, the pressure and frustration builds, emotional energy turns into anxiety, or even anger towards others. It can also make you feel ill. Leading Light simply says that when you’re stuck in traffic, there’s nothing you can do so don’t react negatively. Make the best of a bad situation; use the time constructively to problem solve issues at work; work on an important letter or report in your head; or even just sit back, relax and chill out to some soothing music on the radio.”

Waller concludes, “Let’s face it – you can either wake up every Monday morning, dreading the thought of going to work and mentally filling the week with problems, or you can go in with a positive attitude, turning problems into opportunities and enjoy what you do. That’s what Leading Light showed me.”

  • Operation Florian

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