Beyond the Scene: Focus on Exercise and Hobbies to Lower Stress
By Dr. Shana Nicholson, Faculty Member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
*This article is part of In Public Safety’s November focus on physical health*
Firefighting and public safety careers are stressful professions. Firefighters, paramedics, and police officers often must interact with people who are at their worst, and offer assistance when people are in pain, struggling, and dying. Such a role can take an immense toll on one’s mental and physical wellbeing. In order to deal with such stress, public safety professionals must adopt positive coping skills.
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Greg Scolapio, Chief of Police of Lumberport, West Virginia, has more than 20 years of experience as a police officer and public safety professional. Scolapio can attest to all of the job stressors in public safety and knows the importance of adopting healthy and strong stress management techniques.
One stress management technique he has embraced is having interests and hobbies outside of public safety. Scolapio is an avid animal-rescue supporter. He was the sworn Humane Officer for the Harrison County Sherriff’s Department and has developed a passion for animal rescue. Scolapio volunteers his time for the Humane Society of Harrison County.
Scolapio also dedicates his time to public safety education courses for the community including firearm safety, concealed weapons courses, and is a Refuse to Be a Victim instructor with the NRA. Greg also supports and encourages women’s safety and by teaching self-defense courses for Women on Target.
He also encourages public safety professionals to maintain good physical health and foster outside recreational activities to keep their mental and physical wellbeing in focus. “It is the responsibility of leadership to set a good example for mental and physical wellbeing,” he said. He participates in running races including Paws for Claws 5K, Derek Hotsinpiller Fallen Stars 5K, and the Cecil Jarvis 10K.
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Public safety leaders also have a responsibility to recognize burnout, excessive stress levels, and declines in the physical wellbeing of their staff. “You must recognize your own limitations and take a proactive approach to keeping yourself well. Don’t sweat the little stuff!” he said.
In order to reduce the stress levels that are a primary factor in public safety professional turnover rates, many organizations are implementing fitness and wellness programs. Some programs encourage organized sports events such as golf and softball. Other departments and agencies offer discounted or free exercise facility memberships to their staff. When considering developing such a program, consider using the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Standards 1500 and 1582 as a guide, including yearly medical examinations, regular workout routines, and available mental health resources.
How is your agency supporting outside interests among your personnel?
About the Author: Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. She is an active member of Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in human services with a specialization in criminal justice and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization, both from Capella University.