Sept. 2, 2020

Ep. 48 Leading Through Chaos Series- Lifetime Firefighter & Leader Wayne Jasper


Leading through chaos- Firefighter & Officer Wayne Jasper has led through chaos and in this episode Wayne talks about his life as firefighter, experiences and lessons learned from a leadership perspective.  He has taken a particular path around mental wellness & health for first responders where he has graciously given a great deal of time & dedicated his life to the safety of not only the public but his brothers & sisters in the fire service.

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Transcript

Hello there, folks, I'm joined by the one and only Wayne Jasper, and you know, we could go into ... long conversation about, his, his experience and decades in the Fire Service and some of his experience, but I'll throw it over to you, Wayne to give us an idea of who is Wayne Jasper, what's your background, and then we'll, we'll get started on, ... on our leadership journey to together just go ahead Wayne. Well, I just started out as a volunteer fell into the role accidentally when they're, just happened to be a house fire about five or six houses down, down from me and ... ran down to help

it was the middle of the night fire, the time the, thing was over with, I didn't retreated on to that apartment this goes back into 1980-1981, so did a few years as a Volunteer Firefighter and then became a Career Firefighter with the Departure, of National Defense, a Civilian Firefighter at You'd be a squad Hold on put him 30 years there retired in 2016 and, and moved to the Okanogan, to relax and enjoy the, enjoy the weather wasn't here very long and ...

actually, I accidentally found out that one of the department's here bought one of my department's old trucks and was needing a little bit of help with it, so what turned out is a quick trip to go and help them ... run the truck ended up being recruited back onto a department, well, now the Deputy Fire Chief on that department with the Anarchist Mountain Volunteer Fire Department in Osoyoos and ... I'm also a member of the Osoyoos Fire Department as well, so many years of many years in the about to complete my 35th year in the Fire Service in another couple months,

Well, it's, so like a lot of people that we've been talking to your failing miserably at retirement, so good work on that with us, yes now a particular interest to me and probably a lot of people that are watching is your background with regard to Mental Health and Self Care, so you give us a brief kind of synopsis of what that looks like because that's those would be some of things that will impact, through our conversation here. Well, like a lot of things that goes on in the Fire Service here,

You kind of find your way through what you're doing and and sometimes fall into a mish that you develop somewhat by accident and, uh, having had some friends over the years that suffered from PTSD, I kind of sat down with them and and started wondering, you know, what is it we can do to help, you know, we're seeing this a lot, it's obviously something that's been around for many, many years, long before I was even born, we're dating back to the World Wars, when it was,

you know, they were referring to it as shell shocked, and ... there's always been a pretty heavy stigma attached to it in the Fire Service and any any world there are, people just don't want to talk about it, they don't want to admit that there's something going on, and ... you don't want to promote in and and ask for help, so I started working with a number of people that we're going through it and we started putting in the time to develop some programs created ... ...

very useful program for department's called Adapt to Prevent PTSD adopted is an acronym their awareness, dialogue and proactive tracking, so the tracking is very key issue because we've in the Fire Service and like any other, any other Corporate Service seem to track things that are hazardous to your health or your business and try to avoid that, so the Fire Service is continuously tracked Hazardous Exposures to ... Various Chemicals, Asbestos, things like that, but they never tracked exposure to Traumatic Incidents, and one of the first keys in getting somebody help is starting to realize that people are finding incidents that they're going to as dramatic and starting to build build up a pattern from from attending these calls,

so giving people now the opportunity to ... to indicate right away after return from a call that it's they found it traumatic in nature and just simple reporting, and ... they can either turn that in right away, where they can sit on their paperwork in their own walker and see if it goes away, and, ... and if not, they now have documented records to prove that they have attended some symptomatic calls and and ... have built up that cumulative effect of it without having to ...

the question you know relentlessly on what the calls were, they now have all the paperwork right there in their hand, so this has been something that we were working on to spread all across not only Canada, but trying to get people in North America, I know I've had some contact with members in Australia's Well, they're starting to implement this .... protocol, it's gearing up to be one of the key steps in breaking stigma. Now because they're so much unpack there and recognizing that the Private Sector typically wouldn't have an accumulation of events,

and I think we've in the Emergency Service that's a moment you know, there's  money, somebody done it so you don't have to do it right?

That's exactly, that's exactly it not looking after the people right ... and so the kind of misperception misconception is that critical incident

stress is a single incident when I think in both of our experience, well could be, but it's probably more insidious than that,

so i would be curious, you know, as you know, in crisis and the Private Sector, for example,

what would make, what would be a an instant or something that would make somebody more prone in terms of,

you know, that the environment that they're going through, so what would make something a little bit more critical or more, impactful for somebody than,

say, examples that aren't for example, so, you know, we've got a whole bunch of things to unpack there,

but just so that we can help other people kind of almost like a checklist for lack of a better word to,

to see oh this is a situation that might be a little bit different, and I need to be even more aware of how I'm feeling and how those around us are feeling.

One of the one of the key things that can, can lead to this developing it into an issue is dealing with any incident,

whether it's, you know, with the Fire, whether it's Police or whether it's, EMS and whether it's even over the Corporate World where you're involved with something that,

... ... can cause of fear of harm to yourself where you're feeling your harmed, you could be a bank teller being robbed,

you could be ... ... somebody that's going through a divorce that's afraid to lose everything they've got,

you could be a business that is starting to fold, and your fearing for what you're gonna do to look after your family,

or, or how you're going to look after your employees that have been loyal to you for a while it, it all comes down to a fear of, of something that you can't control and something that's just gonna continue to grow with you. And, and so it was subtle but very,

very important where we tend to think of safety as a physical safety right, and, and I think a lot of people are,

no, I haven't been held up by a bank, you know, I'm not a bank, I'm not a Firefighter,

so this obviously doesn't pertain to me, but what does that look like in terms of the non physical threats or those other fears that you talked about?

Well, it's also the It's also the mental aspect, you know, when you're when things are running smoothly for anybody,

it's, It's a pretty ... you know easy going day, you don't build up the tensions inside and the stress because things haven't been going wrong

it goes quite well, you know, you could be you could be tasked with doing any kind of project that just is not going the way you're hoping it for to do it could be timelines on a, on a construction project that you're not,

you're not meeting because of, you know, supplies not coming in, and if your that you know,

you're the one in charge that it's all falling back on, now you've got all those stresses that are starting to build on you that start to put fear that you're not gonna be able to overcome it,

And ... you know, you start, you ... it internalized that initially, but eventually it can be it can come outward

and ... these there's just so many different things that can cause that stress. And, and I think it's safe to say that it's hard to apply one blanket theme or statement across all because I think in your experience,

as is with mine, it's highly individualized, and I think that's one of the biggest challenges where I could have an experience that is the exact same as Wayne

 Jasper and my interpretation of it, the meaning I attached to it is completely different, then your's

would you agree? Exactly, Exactly you know, that's, that's one of the things that you know, it is an example of the first,

you know, Emergency Service's type of call you know, we could be going to the same exact same call,

and it might not be that critical a call, but ... you know, we see this a lot in smaller communities,

more so than the larger ones, where in a smaller community, everybody knows that, and, you know,

you could be going to a call, and ... ... it turns out to be that's your next door neighbor or, or a friend that you're and, and you know,

the rest of the crew members might have not met them or might not have known them, but now all of a sudden,

that stress builds with you because you're wondering how are they gonna look after the family now that hurt, you know,

we gotta make sure that these people are you getting, getting the help that they need, and ...

we're the rest of the crew, you know, they might not feel that same overwhelming stress from it just simply by not knowing somebody,

so, ... some people have the ability to basically internalize things and, and, and hang onto it, and this is where we get that cumulative build up where others it could be a single incident,

and, and it doesn't have to be a major incident, it could be a massive incident, or it could be,

you know, something so small is a, is a car accident, it was Emergency Responder's, that one thing that, that sets us off before we even leave the station is when we hear, when we hear a call that involves children,

so it doesn't matter with your EMS, Police or Fire as soon as you get a call around those lines right away,

your stress is through the roof, your adrenaline's flowing, and ... they might not turn out to be a serious call,

but you're affected before you even leave the station. Recognizing that when you say community that could very easily translate into Corporation,

you know, Large Corporations and and all of these things may happen to somebody else, but in Smaller Organizations were also seeing the impact of these things,

and I'm curious now, so if we were to go back and Wayne Jasper, the early leader, you know,

when you first got a stripe or two, where was Mental Wellness or Stress Management on your list of priorities,

you know when, when you would go to a call, where was it, back, back in the day?

Well to be honest, to be honest with you, I don't think it was even there back,

back in the day with just go and do your thing and, and the only thing that was your concern was that,

you know, everybody stayed safe and  crew stayed safe, what ... you know, it's, It's that, that same adage,

you know, when we're running into things while everybody else is running out, and, ... and there wasn't really that, that fear,

there wasn't really that, that stress level for me in there, it might have been for some others, but it never really hit me until I started seeing it in others and started recognizing that this was a real thing and that we've got to,

... we've got to change some of the things that we're doing, and we've got to do something to help those that are going through it.

And so if let's fast forward a year or two, now Wayne Jasper's sitting right here, what has what have you learned with regard to the leader's responsibility,

so we'll start with the responsibility than how they carried out, but from your perspective, what is the leader's responsibility with regard to self care,

taking care of the people, because one thing that we often forget and we were just speaking off camera is from a business perspective,

there's a tendency to focus on the bottom line and, and you know the business impact,  but no matter if it's a Fire Service or, or Bank,

you're ultimately your job is to look after the people doing the job, so what kind of responsibility is in your mind,

does a leader have with regard to that? I would ... you know, say by from my recent experiences that the most important thing right now is to recognize what,

what you need to do yourself to help yourself, first, you gotta, you gotta maintain your own ability to, to look after others,

and a lot of times you were seeing that that ... some of the leaders that, that were being tasked on some pretty heavy duty jobs they're not taking care of themselves,

and this is when things start falling apart below them where you gotta, you gotta maintain your own physical ability,

your mental ability, your covenant of coping skills, there's so many things that, that you can do to start building your own resilience,

which you can then pass on to those below you and, and also getting to know what these issues are and what the common signs on symptoms are,

... when somebody is struggling with, with some of these tough issues, it , it leads well to being to help them and to be able to

you know, approach them and something that they might find not very comfortable approach you about, so you've got to be able to ... be

you know, be very ... be very fair with people that are, that are dealing with some issues and, and you've gotta to understand that sometimes it's not their fault,

It's, ... it's ... it's what's happened to them, and it's not anything that they're, they're controlling because they're not understanding it themselves

so, you know, in order to build that resilience and, and learn about it is a very key thing for, ... for ...

leaders on the upper level, and it doesn't matter whether it's in the Fire Service or the Corporate World ...

you know you can't ... you can't look after those below you if you're not looking after yourself.

And, and so why, I completely agree, so why don't leaders look after themselves, and I've got some ideas around it and why,

over my experience, I've been the last one, so why is that, in your experience that leaders typically are the last ones to take care of themselves,

when to your point, that's a, that's a pretty critical component of any team functioning is the leadership of it,

so why don't we, why don't we take care of ourselves? Well, that's a tough one you know,

I think it almost falls into a couple of different groups where, where you may be somebody that's been placed in that roll and moved up maybe too soon, or you could be somebody,

that's ... you know, just had that determination to go forward and, and, and, you know,

fight everything, beat everything, changed everything, do everything your way, that's just the way it is,

and ... you know, we have so many different personalities involved, and I, I think that if way might be more inclined to see it in, in those that have been moved into a position that may not quite have been ready for that position

... and now we're putting stress on them to carry out a job that they may be looked forward to down the road but weren't quite prepared for it ...

so it's, it's hard to say, you know, that we've got those that we've got people that are,

you know, incredibly book smart ... you know, they can go through a book and pick everything out of it,

yet, when you put him in place in the real world, it's ... it's, it's sometimes difficult to apply what they've just learned,

... there's just so many different combinations of what, what, ... what makes somebody a good leader ...

it's just not one thing and recognizing what you're doing for others and, and recognizing what you're doing for yourself or what you're not doing for yourself and, and,

what's harming, harming ... you know harming what you're doing to yourself, you're ultimately harming those below you.

And, and I think it's often like a badge of honor that if the leader isn't walking around with his or her hair on fire,

they're not doing their job, right, and, and I think that we should break that stigma as much as we can,

because, in, in my view, the leader should be the least frenetic, you know, whether be on scene or in the border or whatever,

because they need to set the tone, but if we get into this hamster wheel of activity and this badge of honor,

then we forget that, you know, we're only human ourselves, and so I think one of the words that we could use with regard to the leader's responsibility or what you could do was kind of empathy,

and can you can you speak to that, because I think that's a word we didn't hear 10 years ago when we talked about leadership. And, and

you know, you've gotta, you've gotta to be working in a position that and in a way that you recognize,

you have to recognize your working with whoever is working underneath, you know, whether you're the leader, whether you're the,

you know, the the guy in the mailroom ... you're all working for the same goal and you've all gotta,

you've all gotta, specific task that you've got to do and ... you know, sometimes you know,

it, it takes a little bit to, to recognize when somebody's struggling and to, to show them that extra hand up get them going in the right direction and to get them through to the next level,

so, you know, we really do need to have that Empathy is a ... you know, it's hard,

it could take a lot out of you, to when you're when you have a lot of Empathy for somebody and you're trying to,

... to work with them and, and trying to be there for them to help them out and ...

and, and still look after yourself at the same time. And so, with regard to, you know, the leader needs to walk the walk with regard to empathy,

but would you also agree that, you know, kind of the conversation we just had with regard to leadership,

part of it is also demonstrating, the fact that this is tough on you as well. It's not an adversarial position,

and that's where a lot of times we see that comes, you know, leadership comes across as an adversarial position with those that are underneath you,

and ... that, that's you know that's the first, first key in, in they're going to be issues developing,

so you have to, you have to work in a way that it's not an adversarial position, you have to have that open door,

you have to be able to ... be out you know, mingling with your staff, you know,

you gotta, you gotta let them know that, you know, maybe you're at the top, one day you were,

you were in their position, and ... ... things change over time obviously, your principles change,

Policies change, but everybody has to work with that.