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A Legacy of Service

Ever watchful and alert as safeguard for Boise’s first line of defense, Captain Christensen understands intimately the importance of his role as first responder

Article by Kristen Lynch

Photography by Jonni Armani

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.”  — Robert K. Cooper. Ph.D.

Boise Fire Captain Rob Christensen knows a bit about emotional intelligence, as it is often in traumatic situations that one must quickly assess a workable solution and use one’s ability to summon clear rationale thinking, often in life and death situations. Emotional intelligence isn’t measured like a standard IQ test, rather it is measured by a person's ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions. Abilities that seem to be a common trait for many first responders, 

Says Christensen, “It takes a knack to look at an emergency and make critical decisions in very little time. Having emotional intelligence can help with that decision and give us the ability to take a step back to resolve.”

As a dedicated first responder, he has spent years perfecting this ability of thinking ‘differently’. A second-generation firefighter, Christensen is the son of a firefighter and growing up under the auspices of first responders uniquely qualified him to step right into the family business. 

“The stories my dad shared sounded exciting and I knew I didn’t want a desk job.” Says Christensen.

Though it wasn’t an overnight transition, Christensen worked his way up the proverbial fire ladder with a stint in the forest service, and then with the elite Boise Hotshots. When he began pursuing year-round work, the service led him back to Boise. 

“I realized how my work was involved in national incidents and I began to see how people would show up and help out. It was rewarding to me as a human being.”

It is in this spirit of service and compassion, that in addition to his first responder role, Christensen wanted to expand upon a way to bring emotional first aid to fellow firefighters. This dedication came to fruition in a program that his colleague, Chief Brad Bolen started, one that Christensen quickly joined and now serves as facilitator: Peer Support Team. This program helps first responders process highly traumatic events and offers a way for them to reach out and receive access to mental health support. 

“Sometimes firefighters will go through really horrific psychological trauma. We provide a department-wide support service to address mental and emotional health issues. We all experience stress (chronic and acute) as well as significant situations that have caused emotional trauma during our life. As first responders this significantly multiplied with the nature of our work. Showing up for one another and holding space for someone in need, and letting them know that it is OK to not feel OK makes all the difference in the world. This group offers a safe place for them to reach out and check-in.”

For Christensen, providing this much needed support is as critical to his coworkers as ensuring that they have all necessary gear and proper training to perform their daily job. And though first responders are accustomed to the unexpected and unusual occurring on a regular basis, our current Covid-19 crisis has created additional challenges. 

Says Christensen, “Anytime we go into a situation, we need to have the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and pertinent info through dispatch. We have to be mindful of keeping the six-feet distance, and always aware that when we have control, we have the power to reduce fear.” 

Ever watchful and alert as safeguard for Boise’s first line of defense, Christensen understands intimately the importance of his role as first responder, but even he has his own brand of hero. 

Says Christensen, “There are the people I work with. Family members. Hospital workers on the frontline of this health crisis, those who are having to work face to face with this disease. Teachers. Right now, [teachers] are trying their best to adapt and maintain support with their students.”

Speaking of teachers, on behalf of Peer Support Team, Christensen was invited to talk with Idaho Superintendents Network through Education Northwest, at a state-wide level. Again, using the platform of mental health awareness, Christensen was able to start the oft difficult discussion on the still stigmatized subject of mental health. 

“I spoke about having to work with teachers and students as young as first grade about what to do in an active-shooter drill. These are very stressful, traumatizing situations and teachers also need to have access to that same kind of peer support.”

Not only does Christensen’s sense of service and community activism extend well into his fire fighter family – and beyond – but it continues even at home, within his own nuclear family. His wife, Valerie is also actively involved with the Alzheimer Association Idaho Chapter. She works diligently with  volunteerism efforts in finding a cure and relentless pursuit in treatment of the disease. Again, the theme of spreading awareness to the plight of mental health wellness is a strong shared passion. 

“People in the fire service tend to help themselves last. They keep adding their stress and emotional trauma into a bucket. These buckets are full. We want to help empty these buckets by educating people, by providing services and support when needed.”

For more information about Peer Support Team, view the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjSv7ubiBZ8#action=share). 

Interested in improving your job skills and interview success? Read Christensen’s book, Interview Rule Book (https://interviewrulebook.com/free-interview-rule-book-downloads/)

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