Applying Firefighting Acronyms To Man Life

brotherhood fatherhood firefighting response stress

 The fire service has many traditions.  A few unique to Northern Colorado include: 

  • We are organized like the military and chain of command is alive and well.
  • We consider ourselves “family” not co-workers, employees, or associates.
  • We eat meals together and share a common table nearly every night on shift.
  • Expect to bring your own birthday cake on your birthday for everyone to celebrate you.
  • You owe “everyone” ice cream if you run over a curb driving an apparatus.
  • Rookie firefighters risk their lives, diving over chairs, tables, and even other firefighters to answer the phone first, before a more senior crew can get to it.
  • And most importantly, no one vacuums before 7 am. 

The fire service also has dozens of rules, regulations, standards and disciplines.  These mostly exist to keep us safe and organized, especially amidst dangerous, chaotic or stressful situations.  Being rational and functional in these unpredictable situations is paramount. 

Because of this reality, we train nearly everyday on every imaginable scenario.  From house fires, to cardiac arrests, to car accidents, to drownings, to forest fires, to boat and plane and train crashes. We train to hone our skills, but more importantly we train to condition our minds to work right when the real pressure is on.  Someone once told me, “No one wants a freaked out and irrational firefighter at their door when their house is on fire!” 

Copy that!

How does all this relate to Fatherhood, Brotherhood and being a Godly man? Great question! In the wildland fire arena (think forest fire) there are certain rules/orders/safety directives that significantly increase or decrease your chances of staying alive - they are called the “10 Standard Firefighting Orders.”  Buried in the middle at #6 is what I want to challenge us with:

6.  “Think Clearly. Act Decisively. Be Alert. Stay Calm”

I affectionately call this T.A.B.S.  (Oh, I failed to mention that yet another tradition in the fire service is an irrational desire to create acronyms for ALL things). 

  • Think clearly is a call to ward off a tendency to mis-read or mis-interpret changing information and situations when we are under stress or tired. 
  • Act decisively seeks to avoid the potential disaster of paralyzing indecision. 
  • Be alert reminds us to maintain situational awareness, keeping attune to what is happening around us. 
  • Staying calm keeps our emotions in check and all the chemically induced mental challenges that come with our natural fight/flight response.

How can we apply these in our homes, our parenting, our faith journeys?  Consider your mental space the next time you are struggling, tempted yet again, stressed, tired, overwhelmed, sad, undisciplined, taking it out on those around you, righteously raging, depressed, justified at someone else’s expense, feeling sorry for yourself, or simply distant from God.  What would T.A.B.S. look like?

Here's a simple example from my life:  I come home from a long shift, I have had very little sleep, I am excited to see my family and be home for a few days.  Then, I look in the backyard and see…dog poop!  In an instant, my mind has changed.   Happy?  Calm?  Centered and rational?  Thinking clearly?  Still excited to be home?  Truth be told, I am dwelling on the poop.  How many times do I need to remind him??  My mind has been hijacked. 

Here comes an all too familiar mental trip.  I am internally raging and entertaining false stories about my inadequacy as a parent, disappointment as a father, his irresponsibility as a son, and convinced that this definitively proves he will end up living in a van down by the river! 

How quickly I lose perspective.  I am not being loving, gentle, gracious, rational, or wise.  This is not the father I want to be.  Just because I default to this unhealthy thought process, learned from my own absent and unengaged father, I am not destined to repeat it.  My need for grace and patience is as great as my son’s.  We are both very much “In process,” God’s craftsmanship still being crafted.

Remembering T.A.B.S is one effective way to break the pattern my mind so easily wants to take.  Seeing and hearing God’s voice becomes possible again.  I can choose to show up in gracious, calm, intentional ways.  This scenario is not about my son, or me, it is quite simply about some unattended poop.  Stopping, taking a deep breath, seeing my son for how amazing he really is…this is thinking clearly.  And yes…the poop eventually will be picked up.

One final thought:  The 10th, and final Standard Firefighting Order reads: 

“Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.” 

The fire service acknowledges a need to take mental stock before engaging in dangerous activity.

Do you?   What would it look like for you to apply T.A.B.S. in your faith journey?   Into your brothering, into your fathering, into your husbanding?   There is a fight to be fought for you, for your family, for your community, for your heart.  Are you ready to engage affectively?


Kevin Lyon
Restoration Project Advocate
Fort Collins, Colorado

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