Mental Backdraft – Do You Know the Signs?


Chief Sam DiGiovanna


As firefighters we are trained to identify the signs that a fire will lead to a backdraft. When smoke and gases build up and rise to the ceiling and begin to spread, and nothing is done to ventilate or cool the room, a flashover – the sudden, simultaneous ignition of everything in an area – can occur.

When this occurs and the smoke is the fuel an explosion is eminent with dangerous and deadly results. Even with firefighters in full protective gear survival is not likely.

Here is a an illustration of a backdraft. If we don’t coordinate with the truck company for roof or vertical ventilation this is what happens when pressure from smoke, heat and gasses build up and ignite/explode.

The same explosive reaction can happen with uncontrolled anger. It is a lot like a backdraft. Pressure, anxiety, stress, fear, displeasure, or hostility builds up. You feel pressure and ready to burst. Like a backdraft, here are some signs of intermittent explosive mental behavior.

Unless we can coordinate an effective way to vent our emotions an outburst (explosion) or dangerous reaction can occur in our mind with dangerous and deadly results to our self and others.

Uncontrolled anger of the mind is detrimental in so many ways, negatively affecting relationships, physical health, and mental well-being. It causes so much damage personally and professionally:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Fear/anxiety/paranoia
  • Ruins relationships at work and at home
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Focus/clarity
  • Job loss/performance

The good news is you can control temper flare-ups. This requires discipline of the mind, coordinated with professional help. When anger is out of control, you will need a professional to help you “ventilate” all those negative emotions to avoid that backdraft in the mind.

How do we do this?

1. Think before you speak

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to say something you will later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything — and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.

2. Once you are calm, express your anger

As soon as you are thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but non-confrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.

3. Get some exercise

Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk, or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.

4. Take a timeout

Timeouts are not just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what is ahead without getting irritated or angry.

5. Identify possible solutions

Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does your child’s messy room drive you crazy? Close the door. Is your partner late for dinner every night? Schedule meals later in the evening — or agree to eat on your own a few times a week. Remind yourself that anger will not fix anything and might only make it worse.

6. Stick with ‘I’ statements

To avoid criticizing or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use “I” statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes” instead of “You never do any housework.”

7. Don’t hold a grudge

Forgiveness is a powerful tool. If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation and strengthen your relationship.

8. Use humor to release tension

Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humor to help you face what is making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.

9. Practice relaxation skills

When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “Take it easy.” You might also listen to music, write in a journal, or do a few yoga poses — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.

10. Most importantly – Know when to seek help!

Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Seek help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.

Contribution: Mayo Clinic

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif.  Sam also serves as Executive Vice President of Fire Operations at CORDICO INC.