Helping a department through loss

Lessons from a Florida chief’s message to grieving members

Marion County (Florida) Fire and Rescue Chief James Banta posted a powerful video this week, speaking directly to his fire department’s “brothers and sisters” after the deaths of two department members. We don’t know why this video was created, and it’s not for us to speculate, but we can talk about grief and leadership.

Brené Brown says, “A brave leader is someone who says, ‘I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions.’”

Chief Banta is unquestionably a brave leader. With a black ribbon across his badge, he speaks with a mixture of vulnerability, compassion and inspiration. Helping a department through grief is one of the most difficult things a leader faces. There are several lessons for all of us highlighted in this video.

  1. Speak directly with empathy but without sugarcoating the message.
  2. Label the factors that may contribute to issues. In this video, Chief Banta calls out low pay, workload, mandatory overtime, lack of sleep, substance abuse, PTSD and addiction, with no spin or excuse.
  3. Describe the complexity of why simple solutions won’t solve deep problems.
  4. Recruit your teammates with a specific call-to-action. “Be my eyes and ears,” Banta urges members, asking them to look for warning signs in their colleagues that show they may need help.
  5. Normalize emotional reactions to traumatic events by revealing how it’s affected you as a leader.
  6. Close by bolstering members’ strengths and your confidence that you will get through this together.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to your department’s EAP, Chaplin, peer support, or CISM team. Call 988 24 hours a day. Familiarize yourself with the extensive list of resources for emergency services professionals on the All Clear Foundation website.

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2023 EMS1. All rights reserved.