The Last Call

surviving the last call

Whether you are a firefighter, a medic, a police officer or a soldier you face the reality that the next call you go to, or the next mission you run may end up as your last call.

Every morning when we wake up and go to the station or report for a briefing, we face the reality that there are forces outside our control that may result in our not coming back from that day’s calls/mission.  In Arizona we recently witnessed 19 brave souls who faced their last callout. RIP brothers.

Every day hundreds of thousands of us leave our spouses, kids, parents, siblings, and friends to respond.  What do they feel about our chosen path? How do they, our loved ones, handle the very same daily scenario? Some are faced with overwhelming fear that their loved one will not return. Some recognize the reality for what it is and simply choose to not dwell on it. Some are grateful that they will finally have some time alone. So, what is the difference that makes the difference?

  • To answer this question we need to explore:
  • What is an emotion?
  • What causes emotions?
  • What can we do to control or change them?
  • What can we do to help our loved ones, our spouses, to be at peace with the reality of the dangers faced by our chosen occupation (volunteer or career, it doesn’t matter)?

What is an emotion?

Wikipedia states: “In psychology and philosophy, emotion is a subjective, conscious experience that is characterized primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states.” The two words I would like to bring your attention to are “subjective” and “conscious”. They are subjective to the person experiencing them and they are a consciously created (this does not however necessarily mean intentional).

What causes an emotion?

Well, according to Tony Robbins, a 30+ year student of human behavior who has worked with more than 3 million people, says that basically an emotion is a feeling that is made up of, or more accurately created by, three things or a triad. Those three things are Focus, Language, and Physiology. Focus is defined as the topic or scenario that one’s attention is dwelling upon. Language is the sum of the words or phrases that one is using to communicate with themselves or others. Physiology is the very specific motion or position that we put our bodies into while experiencing a specific emotion. For example, the triad of the emotion called “victorious” is very different than the triad of the emotion called “defeated”.

What can we do to change them?

Now that we know what they are made of — Focus, Language and Physiology — we have what we need to disassemble them. When you change any one of these three, the emotion must change. It is impossible for the nervous system to hold the triad of that which makes us laugh and to hold the triad of that which makes us cry tears of sadness at the same moment. Granted some may switch back and forth rapidly, but they cannot coexist in the nervous system at the same time.

When my children are grumpy, (or sometimes even my wife) I set my intention on making them laugh. With Mason, my 7-year-old, tickling is usually very effective. With my wife I often need to be more creative. But in either case it brings to their awareness that they have to choose to go back to the triad of “grumpy” after the pattern has been interrupted.

The fastest and easiest part of the triad to change is Physiology. If you are feeling “down” just jump up, smile big and throw and hold your arms up high and, if you want, say something like, “I LOVE my life!!” I guarantee that your emotion will change from what is was before. If you choose to, stand up and list all the things that you are grateful for in life, all the people that you Love and all the people who Love you, and you will find your emotions change. There are cases where people have cured themselves of dis-eases like cancer simply by investing hours a day engaging in and laughing with comedy of all sorts.

Another very important precursor to the experiencing of an emotion is the belief upon which the thoughts or focus is built. For example, if a person believes “Bungee jumping is inherently, unpredictably dangerous and only a crazy person would jump off a 300-foot platform with nothing but a tiny little rubber band tied to their ankle,” this person will experience one kind of emotion when they think about bungee jumping or someone they love bungee jumping.

What are the beliefs that we can identify just in this statement and how can we cause the believer to question the validity of the belief upon which their thought is based?

“Inherently, unpredictable”? Is that true?

That it is dangerous. I suspect that the engineers who design the systems would disagree with both  #1 and #2.

Only a crazy person would jump… There are thousands of very sane jumpers.

300-ft platform… what if it was only 100 or 75 feet? Would that be different?

“Tiny little rubber band”? What if the band was rated at 4x the expected weight and there was a backup band of equal strength?

“Tied to the ankle”? What if the ankle harness system was also rated to many times the expected weight and the backup bungee was connected to a full waist and chest harness?

When we can go upstream to the beliefs from which the thoughts emanate and loosen the grip of that belief on the individual then we free them to the possibility of holding a new belief which would render the previous thought or focus irrelevant. Often when we express fear of a thing, say flying or heights, it is not the flying or heights that is the real fear. It is the thought or mental image of crashing or falling that we are afraid of and the story that we make up about what it would mean. If we think about how devastated our children/family will be and how their lives would be ruined if we were not there because our plane crashed then we will have a very different feeling than if we focus on the confidence and independence we have instilled in our children and believe in their ability to adapt and how we have provided for their financial stability and have designated Loving caring guardians should we no longer be there.

Get clear on what the real fear is. Then ask:

  • What would have to happen for that to no longer be a legitimate fear?
  • How can we prepare so that the concerns are mitigated?
  • What meaning could we give the future event that would make this emotional reaction inappropriate?”
  • For example, if someone cuts me off in traffic and I think, “what a selfish A$$-hole,” I feel angry. But if I think, “boy, I hope everyone is ok” or “I am sure there is a justifiable reason for him to be in such a hurry,” the emotion of anger would no longer be appropriate and would not be experienced.

So how can we apply this to helping our loved ones experience less anxiety and stress over the dangers inherent to our work? Get curious about what the actual feeling or emotion is. Often times they will have to explore themselves at a level they have not done before in order to identify and name the fear. Seek to understand the root cause of the feelings. Get curious what the beliefs are that are leading to the thoughts/fears. This also takes a lot of self-honesty, deep trust and intimacy to share. This can be a beautifully connecting conversation because often our Loved ones feel understood and appreciated in a way they are not accustomed to.

I have come to believe that our emotions are our guidance system and are inherent to the experience of being human. I believe that every emotion has a message for us. The message of fear is “get prepared” and the message of anger is there for self-preservation. Even animals have emotions at some level. Right? What makes us a higher order of animal? I believe it is our ability to be consciously aware of the emotion and to CHOOSE to hold it, let it go or change it.

When I asked my wife what she experienced or thought as I went off to work, she said she mostly chose to not focus on it or give it much thought at all but when she did think about it she felt proud of the work I did and when the thought of “The Last Call” came into her mind she told herself, as much as she wanted me to be in her life for the rest of her life, she would be OK without me and she could be at peace with the fact that I died doing something that I was called to do.

Lastly, I made a commitment to myself that I would always do what I could to ensure that those I loved would never doubt that I loved them. I would always leave my loved ones, my wife and children, with a word or action that I could live with being my last word or action towards them. I would think about them living the rest of their lives with my last words ringing in their ears and the last expression on my face being the one they remember. If I was OK with it, I would go; if not, I would fix it. It didn’t always mean it was over but they always new my Love was bigger than the issue at hand.  I know it sounds cheesy but in the movie Minority Report one scene shows the intuitive woman in the house of the main character and feeling “there is so much Love in this house.” I, and my wife, consciously strive to create that energy in our home.

In the movie Act of Valor, Lt. Rorke says ”… Love your life, perfect your life. Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”

Overcoming the Time Away

firefighter time away from family

Have you ever asked yourself what is the safest date and time to travel across your city or town? I used to find myself thinking as I drove to the station Christmas morning at 06:00, the only ones out here are cops, firemen and medical personnel. If I crash the’s odds are in my favor for being taken care of by one of these.

Why? Because they were the professions with people willing to give up “family time” — personal time — on those days when everyone else was at home. It goes beyond just the individual. It extends to their families and loved ones. During my 13 years as a career firefighter, my wife was a single mom for 2 of every 6 days and this does not include local training, out of town training, over time or longer deployments.

How can we as a firefighter help them “be on board” if they aren’t already 100%? The first step is to look at ourselves and seek to understand why we do what we do. I would like to introduce you to the six human needs as understood and explained by Tony Robbins who developed this version of human needs psychology.

6 Basic Human Needs

According to this understanding of human behavior virtually all decisions that we make have the pursuit of one or more of these needs as the primary motive. Here is a list of the 6 human needs chunked into the four needs of the personality and the 2 needs of the soul or the spirit.


Certainty: we all need a sense of certainty in our lives also known as comfort consistency and predictability
Uncertainty: also known as surprise, variety, unpredictability, adventure spontaneity
Significance: everyone needs to feel important as if their life matters and have a purpose
Love and connection: many people settle for connection because to love is to scary.


Growth: everything in the universe must grow, if you’re not growing you’re _____, that’s right, dying.
Contribution: when people actually feel fulfilled they are either growing or contributing

Now these six needs may be met or filled in positive, neutral, or destructive ways.

For example, one can meet the need for certainty by indulging in addictive behavior or by volunteering for a worthy cause. One can meet the need for uncertainty or variety by picking a fight with their partner just to change the mood or trying a new cuisine for dinner. One can find significance by tearing others down or by building others up and becoming the best person that they can be. One can find connection in the story of one’s misery or by sharing a smile with a stranger. Growth can be found in discovering new methods to harm other humans or in finding and discovering methods to feed the hungry. Contribution can be done for selfish reasons in order to meet one’s need for approval from others or it can be done out of love and caring. Understanding the six human needs helps to not only understand the fundamentals of ourselves but also virtually every other human being on the planet.

Let’s take a moment and consider what is the order and sequence of your partner’s needs really think about which ones they value highest and ask yourself how well you have been meeting those needs. When a person gets angry or hurt it is often an indication that one of their top two needs is not being met.

What’s it look like in life?

So let’s take the scenario of a volunteer firefighter who is often called away from home even though they are already away from home working a full-time job. When they hop in the car to respond to the firehouse and they hopped in the big fire truck or they get up early on Saturday morning  to go training at the fire station, which of the six human needs are being met at the high level? I believe it could be argued that all six human needs can be met by the firefighter just by doing their job. There is a lot of certainty; there is variety; there is significance; there is a connection; there is growth; and there is contribution.

When this same firefighter returns home to what degree are these six needs being filled by the home environment? Do our partners, spouses, families have the tools or the awareness to actively meet these needs in such a way to even have a chance of competing with the level that they are met by the job?

Another thing Tony talks about is that a relationship is not a place to go to get, it is a place to go to give. What this looks like in this scenario is that the firefighter must not look to his intimate relationship as a place or a means to meet his human needs at a higher level than is met by doing his duties. His primary outcome must be to creatively find the strategies — the things, the activities — that meet his partner’s needs at a high level. Any person in a relationship who seeks to fill their partner up with the six human needs will almost always find that they are meeting their needs at a higher level. In other words the only love that you can be certain of feeling is the love that you give. The only compassion, caring, tenderness, support, etc. that you can be 100% certain that you will feel is the love, caring, tenderness, support, compassion that you share toward your partner.

Now some might say that this sounds too touchy-feely, too soft, but the truth is that it takes a man of courage to approach his relationship with his wife from a place of service. Rather than going to the relationship for her to make him feel significant or certain, it is important for him to own those qualities within himself and bring them as a gift to his partner. And ladies, those of you who are female firefighters, you also have the challenge to discern the level to which you seek to fill your partners six human needs.

In fact this strategy has very little to do with the gender of the sex of the firefighter but it has everything to do with the fact that more often than not a firefighter when faced with the choice will choose the job over his partner or his family. This alone is evidence that more needs are being met more consistently through the job at the fire department than through the intimate relationship at home.

I personally challenge each and every one of you firefighters to seek to make your partners feel as if their six human needs are being met at the highest levels by you. I challenge you to have the courage to have the conversation with your partner about:

  • What has to happen in order for you to feel certain in our relationship, in my love for you?
  • What has to happen in order for you to feel like there is a variety or uncertainty in our relationship in a healthy way that you enjoy?
  • How can I make you feel that you are significant to me?
  • How can I love and connect with you more? (You may consider reading The 5 Love Languages as a great strategy to finding out how to meet this need.)
  • How can you and your partner grow together?
  • How can you contribute to the household, to your partner, to your family?

Any relationship is in trouble when a partner believes or feels that something or someone is more important to their partner than they are.

Guys this does not mean that you are to lose your focus or your passion for your mission, your career. This simply means that when you come home she must feel that she is the most important person in your life, that she is more important than the guys, that she is more important than the public that you serve and sometimes it must take a gesture to validate the statement that she is more important. But if you lose your focus or are distracted from your mission she will lose respect for you though she may not admit it.

The secret is when you return home be present. Be. With. Her. Often times when we return home we are distracted, we are unfocused, we just want to relax, etc. etc. It is in those moments that she is watching for evidence that she is more important. When we return home she wants to feel we are paying attention to her and her needs and that we are not acting selfishly or otherwise preoccupied.

And for you volunteers, I respect you. At times it seems that your sacrifice is at a higher level. When you are able to demonstrate to your partner that they are the most important even if you must get up and leave during dinner that you just returned home for, your partner will feel significant to you. If you are able to take a moment and connect with your wife unapologetically stating I love you and I am being called to serve and you make the effort to connect when you return, I believe you will see a transformation in your partner’s willingness to support you in your chosen profession.

So the take away from this is seek to meet your partners six human needs proactively and creatively in healthy ways that build each other up. When you are at home be at home. Be present. Be stable. Be strong. Seek to be the best version of yourself.

Common Sense Ain’t So Common

image002Have you heard that before? I have heard it around the firehouse and said it myself once or twice. When I was growing up we didn’t have much money. I am the youngest of 8, and the older kids would say I had it easy compared to before.

I remember we had a pile of bikes, well probably 8-10 frames and a bunch of wheels. We would get out some of Dad’s tools and put together a bike from the parts. Often there was a big wheel in front and small in the back or visa versa and monkey bars and banana seats on bikes they just did not belong on. Sometimes it didn’t work out so good.

One time this elderly couple came driving into the yard and there were my brothers, all bloody and screaming like crazy with a pile of bike parts in the truck. They had been riding down a dirt road and one brother’s handle bars just lifted right out of the forks, then the front wheel turned sideways and just came right off! This is called experiential learning. I guarantee he double checked that everything was tight from that day forward!

We had a lot of experiences like that at our house and I believe that it is a fundamental key to cultivating “common sense”. It causes one to look beyond the thought in the moment and consider the natural outcome of the action we are about to take. It also, I believe, causes us to look for how things fit together or work. I think that is kind of the essence of “common sense”, being able to instinctively see how things fit together, or maybe more accurately, cause and effect relationships of things. We begin to intuitively understand, for example, that if I’m on my bike and I squeeze the brake handle and nothing happens then there is a cause for that experience then one starts to troubleshoot what might be causing the brakes to not work. We start to notice unique details that are relevant and assign meanings. If I squeeze the brake handle in and it collapses with no resistance maybe the cable broke, maybe it just came off the handle…and so on. Next we unconsciously ask, “What does it mean?” “I’m going to crash!” “I hate that I don’t have enough money to have a decent bike that isn’t falling apart!” “WOW! This is exciting!” “Hmmm. How am I going to solve this one?” “Boy! I sure am glad this bike has two brakes!”

You see, our lives are full of events. Some of those events are the direct result of our actions and choices, some are not.  What most people don’t realize is that they have a choice to assign the meaning to the events. What we all tend to do, until we take control, is just accept the first meaning that pops into our head as “truth” and we believe it from that day forward. Rarely do we stop to ask ourselves “What else could this mean?”

This is a powerful question because the meaning that we assign to any event is what tells our brain (mind) what emotion is the appropriate one. How many of you—now be honest—have gotten pissed off at your intimate partner for something you THOUGHT they did that you later found out they did not actually do? OK, maybe you haven’t had that exact experience but have you ever gotten upset at someone or something because of what you thought they did or did not do only to find out you were wrong?

Yea, me too. So let me ask, what were we upset at, the reality of the situation (as it really was) OR the meaning we gave to what we thought we knew to be “true”? That’s right. The meaning we had assigned to the “reality” we observed and interpreted. So how powerful would it be in your relationship if you started to solve some of your problems up stream, at the cause, by asking yourself a higher quality question like, “What else could this mean?”

Let’s say your partner is late. What is your first thought? Is it “they don’t respect me!” or “They are always late!”? STOP and ask yourself “What else could this mean?” You could choose to focus on some thing like, “I am so looking forward to seeing them when they get here,” “I hope they are safe” or “I trust that they are doing their best.”

When you choose to change the meaning that you give the events of your life you are choosing to be in control of your emotional state. By choosing to live life in this manner you are choosing to exercise your common sense and address the cause of the problem which is within your power to change. In the words of Wayne Dyer (and others I’m sure), “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

So starting today, let’s take the common sense we have developed “out there” in the physical world and apply it “in here” and start changing the way we look at things.

Make it a great day!

When the ‘Firehouse Groupie’ Crushes on Your Husband

The other day I was having an email conversation with a new acquaintance who is a “firefighter wife.” She brought up a scenario that has played out in virtually every fire department or station the country over. Her question was this, “What should a firefighter do when the underage young lady he is responding to becomes infatuated with him?  Tries to stop by the firehouse?  Tries to social network with him?  Tries to become his friend?”

Here is what I came up with as a response:

In a nutshell, the question that I think is important is, what is it that this kind of attention from a young lady sparks in a man? I believe it serves to light up his natural desire to be a hero/leader or just desired or wanted. In other words his fundamental human need of feeling significant. We ALL have it. The only question is, how is it being met?

From the perspective of a firefighter turned Relationship Coach, I would be curious, does a fireman’s wife have the tools/strategies and willingness to “light him up?” Is he committed to lighting her up?

It is unlikely they have ever had the conversation, if they did not consciously know they each have a fundamental NEED to feel significant or important. I assure you, if a married fireman (or any man) has a wife who is committed to meeting his 6 Human Needs at home he will tell any “young lady” to go find someone her own age to flirt with, saying “I got my WORLD at home.” Giving her an answer like that would interrupt her attention seeking pattern. The reality is that she is likely seeking to fill the same need of significance by her behavior. Two people who are both trying to feel significant will likely go down the same “unhealthy” path of meeting the need in each other (aka infidelity) given the absence of a healthy, positive, constructive and fulfilling option.

OK so that is the likely structure of the problem as I see it. Seeking to fill the need for “significance”.

How to handle it from a devoted fireman husband’s perspective?

  1. Compassion: I would hallucinate that young ladies exhibiting this behavior likely do not not have very high self worth. She is striving desperately to get attention from the firemen and possibly demeaning her true feminine nature in the process.
  2. Example: Give her an example of how a devoted man treasures his wife and family. Tell her, “I get everything I need and more from home. (assuming that is a true statement) Please stop…{whatever it is she is doing}.” She will now have a reference for how she deserves to be treated/treasured some day by someone else.
  3. Reframe: Go “dad” on her and ask her questions like, “Do you realize that you are making a fool of yourself?, do you realize that this behavior is making you look cheap?, or what is it that you are really looking for?” You can remind her, “You have everything you need within. Find it there and you will find your gift to give the world. I assure you will never find it by trying to be a ‘firehouse groupie’.” The fireman could go on to ask, “Do you want to have a boy friend or husband someday?, do you want him to be faithful and committed to you?” and add, “You must first give the respect that you wish to receive. Please, from now on, respect me and my family.”

The truth is that most of us guys just get our egos all puffed up for a couple minutes by the girls who “wave at the firemen.” Rarely does it end up in a “stalker” situation like this woman described, which might take some or all of the approaches above.

What I am seeking to do with my work is to help couples have the conversation, developing healthy strategies and plans for meeting each other’s fundamental needs on a conscious level rather than leaving it to chance that they will stumble across the magic formula to having a GREAT relationship.

Have you EVER heard of someone leaving a partner who lit them up consistently, making them feel like a god or goddess? Or who they were constantly growing with and who they knew, without a doubt, they could count on to be there for them, to listen and understand? And who was fun to be around and consistently looking for new ways to make the relationship better? Have you ever heard of someone in that relationship filing for divorce or cheating just to feel important to someone, even for a minute? No? Me either.

To help couples have AWESOME relationships — with themselves, each other, their kids, etc. That is my mission.

Blame vs. Responsibility

“A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego with its image-making and self-seeking. In a genuine relationship, there is an out-ward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever. That alert attention is Presence. It is a prerequisite for any authentic relationship. The ego always either wants something or if it believes there is nothing to get from the other, it is in a state of utter indifference: It doesn’t care about you. And so, the three predominant states of an egoic relationship are: wanting, thwarted wanting (anger, resentment, blaming, complaining), and indifference.” — Eckhart Tolle

This statement is packed with great stuff. Did you notice that blaming is one of the reactions of the unaware or egoic mind which is in the “thwarted wanting” state? What is blame? No really, what does it mean “to blame.” According to Webster it is, “to find fault with” or “to hold responsible.” That is just about what I would have expected to find.

When we are in a relationship (or after one) what place does blame have? Can someone else literally force us to do anything? I would propose that the answer is “no.” Even under the threat of death can we truly be forced to do anything? I think what often happens is we are presented with a choice. We make a selection, sometimes from a place of total unconscious programming (beliefs, values, identity, etc.) which we justify consciously will move us closer to the life we think we want; or at least we will avoid pain (sometimes the least painful option) or at best give some pleasure or security. The reality — the results we are left with here in the real world — are often very different from what we were looking for.

Once we become aware of the reality of our situation, sometimes from experiencing something painful — or a wake up call if you will — we find ourselves up to our eyeballs in the stinky stuff and we wonder, “How the hell did I get here?! WHO is responsible for this?!” If we are truly honest with ourselves the only real answer is “I AM.” Those two words hold the key to true freedom. I AM… responsible for this. Because it is not until we admit to ourselves, we are response-able (able to respond vs. react) for the results we are experiencing, that we are empowered to make changes and experience different results down the road. If we continue to place blame or responsibility outside ourselves, then we are living at the effect of others, of the world around us and are helpless to change things. When we take responsibility, we own our current results and those in the FUTURE.

Tony Robbins says when we encounter a challenge or a problem there are really only two options: blame or solution. Blame is living at the effect. Solution is living at cause.

I would also like to point out that there is no real benefit to getting stuck blaming ourselves for the choices and decisions we have made up to this point. Look at them; take responsibility for all of them, “good” and “bad” alike. Learn from them. When we learn something from an experience it looses the “good” or “bad” label and becomes a beneficial experience.

When we truly learn the lessons our identity expands and we have more to offer those we love and the world at large. Are you carrying around hurt or pain from a past relationship or past choices? What choices could you now take responsibility for and learn from in order to transform them into an asset vs. the energy and life sucking liability they have been so far?

Remember, the future has yet to be written, write yours on purpose!

You Are #1

It’s a Sunday morning at the fire station, the second half of a 48. Everyone is a bit groggy. We had a busy night but the person who is calling 911 right now doesn’t even think about that. They are experiencing an emergency and turn to us to solve their problem.  They turn to us for help and we respond. Every day thousands of us put our personal problems, wants and desires, on hold and we respond to the tone.  We put on our “game face” and walk with confidence and certainty, often bringing a sense of calm and comfort to a chaotic and uncomfortable situation. They need to believe that we have the answer. There is no 911 for us. We are 911.

When we enter their lives with a simple —sometimes implied — question “what can we do for you today?” They know that somebody, anybody, is interested in only one thing at that moment — serving them. Most of us, unfortunately, do not experience that often enough. When was the last time you felt like someone in your life had only one thing to do right now, to BE with you? When was the last time you gave someone important to you in your personal life, that gift?

I have a theory that this “one thing,” this “gift” we give our customers on a regular basis, is the one thing Continue reading “You Are #1”

Power of Words

The message in this short film is simple, yet, it has the power to change our lives.

How? When we are aware of the words we speak to others we are more tuned into the effect they have. Have you ever been hurt by someones words spoken to you? Have you ever hurt someone with your words? I know I have. At the same time we each have the ability to express our love, gratitude, appreciation and joy with words. There is also another realm where we use words. What are the words you use to speak to yourself? Do they tear you down or built you up. We all speak thousands of words every day whether to others or ourselves.

Join me. From now on, let’s be more conscious and deliberate with the words we speak to ourselves and others. There is a lot of truth to the old saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But I think we can take it further. I have a very good friend who, every time she meets someone, she has trained herself to ask one simple question, “What could I Love about this person?” What kind of a world would we create if we all came up with a similar question and practiced using it for the next 30 days until it was our default? Would your relationships with your kids, partners or coworkers change if you were having a different conversation on the inside? When you set an intention to make someone feel appreciated, for example, you access a whole different vocabulary than if you did not set that intention.

Let’s agree to use words that build ourselves up and leaves each and every person we cross paths feeling … better.