Lieutenant Damian Motsinger has been with the Lakeland Fire Department for the entirety of his fire career – over 11 years. His grandfather was a volunteer fire chief and his great uncle was a Lakeland firefighter years ago. The idea to follow in their footsteps crossed his mind as a kid. Both he and his sister did eventually pursue their fire standards and carry on the family tradition.
Now a Lieutenant, how Motsinger leads his crew was influenced by a few mentors throughout his career. He complimented Troy Deines for his knowledgeability as a firefighter, and said, “When I was going through paramedic school, he was stationed with me at that time and guided and encouraged me through that process.”
Of another influential firefighter, retired Lieutenant Mark Bowers, Motsinger said, “His crew was very important to him and the family atmosphere and comradery were important to him […] Seeing that early on in my career was important in developing me into an officer because that’s the same way I run my crew here.”
Motsinger and his wife Chelsea, a nurse practitioner, have two dogs. When he isn’t at the fire station, Motsinger likes to stay active, taking their dogs to the dog park, exercising, and practicing martial arts.
Keeping fit is a personal must for Motsinger. He discussed the major changes within the department in the areas of occupational cancer prevention, mental health, safety, and physical health. “There are a lot of aspects to health and wellness in the fire service. Some of the big ones we’re facing right now are cancer and mental health. When a lot of people think of health and wellness they think of the physical aspect, they think about exercising or eating right and those are very important,” he said.
To encourage physical fitness for its firefighters, the Lakeland Fire Department puts out reading material that offers different workout ideas and nutritional advice, and each station has a gym. The department is currently in the process of re-outfitting gyms at each station with new exercise equipment for more functional, low-impact use according to the lieutenant.
Making large meals together is an important part of the culture of the fire service. Balancing healthy eating with the stress of the job can be hard for new firefighters which can lead to weight gain and in turn back, knee, and shoulder problems.
“The truth of it is, in the fire service, you may go from watching tv or sitting at the dinner table to inside a fire within five minutes,” he said. “You have to take care of and maintain your body throughout your career because you’re going to be here for 25 to 30 years.”
Motsinger said, “Hopefully through the information that we put out and through the education we do in our orientation process, we are encouraging our firefighters to eat healthier and live overall healthier lifestyles.”
A problem for many firefighters and an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle is getting adequate sleep. The anticipation and excitement of when the next tone will drop can be jolting, creating an unhealthy sleep schedule that can carry over into a firefighter’s home life, said Motsinger. “It creates this sleep debt where you’re always behind,” he said.
On par with physical fitness, mental health is an area that leadership within the department has given much attention and taken steps to provide resources for. Motsinger explained that firefighters are exposed to all of life’s regular stress, in addition to sleep deprivation and the emergency scenes they are called to. “It can be challenging,” he said. “The mental part of it is constant. The physical part comes and goes, you have harder days than others, but the mental part is every day for your entire career.”
People are affected by things differently and have differing needs when it comes to working through a tough time. Motsinger urged that being bothered by a call doesn’t make a firefighter less than. He said, “Something at some time will bother every firefighter because we’re human beings.”
Motsinger added, “Fortunately, we are doing a much better job of recognizing circumstances that would warrant us taking care of each other. And that’s what the peer support system is all about.”
Lieutenant Motsinger said, “We’re here to help the public. That’s our mission, that’s what we do. But we have to take care of each other first because if we’re not mentally and physically healthy, we can’t help anyone else.”