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Crew and Personal Mental Health Preparedness

Plan for you, so we can plan for them.

Compartmentalization. It’s a big word, with huge meaning, bigger consequences and a humongous impact on our community. Now do me a favor and pump the brakes for a minute. First and foremost, emotional trauma and our day-to- day stressors pile up. They get us individually and can impact the department’s we serve. There’s a whole lot of cultural change happening right now in the fire service.

Who am I kidding? It’s built on change – but one thing undoubtedly remains the same. The calls keep coming in, and we keep going out. We drop our tools, meals,Credit: Instagram @shutupandtrainfire and jokes in the house and leave them behind to go out the door to help someone else. It’s what we do, and we do it pretty well as a service. Gordon Graham once said, “Whatever you’re doing, do it well and get it done.” I find this to be quite true regardless of the emotional weights we carry every day with us.

The big question on my mind, and hopefully yours, is who is watching your back? I have concluded that I have learned a lot from several people that influence me in my career; some of which are my dad, my peers, and the probies that have come after me.

Just from my experience, the calls stack up and will get you at some point. Your reason might be different than mine, but stay with me for a second and make your own analogy. For me, it was one call that did it and like many of you, I didn’t know it at the time.

To paint the picture for you, the call summed up was as such; two-vehicle accident, multiple entrapped, three kids ejected, and there were three of us on the first due – and we were it…for 10 minutes.

We all have this call. It got me six months down the road one day when I saw one of the kids at the grocery store. I talked to my old man about it. He’s been in the service for 35+ years now, and he leveled his call with me. The canvas for his looked like this; single-wide trailer, fire blowing out hard upon arrival. He was on the first due engine which arrived directly after the Battalion Chief dispatched. They stretched a line, forced the door, and then found a family of five stacked up directly behind that door. The crew let the BC know over the radio, who said something along the lines of, “We ain’t fighting no fires today, everyone come forward to do CPR.”

There were three kids in the family…one of them looked exactly like me.

We all have this call. It got my dad the next morning when he saw me coming off shift. All of us have a duty to ensure that everyone on our shift goes home. Making a point about that to the next generation is absolutely necessary, and talking about the stressors, trauma, or your “call” to the current generation is just as important. What I want you to do now is ask yourself if you have someone to talk to. Then ask yourself who your buddy has to talk to. Then ask yourself who the probie has to talk to. It is important to have someone you can call at midnight Credit: Instagram @bear.ptsd.servicedogbecause something’s bothering you. It’s important to be open about it with yourself as well. Find yourself that battle buddy and make sure that everyone on your crew, young and old, has one.

Now back in my day, we still had dogs in the house for the horses, and so, the firehouse dog was born and brought into the fire service. What I’m about to say, I understand, that there are departments that have policies against dogs in the station, however, I’m just giving you another tool in the toolbox. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that what we do is stressful, and takes the cake as the most stressful job out there. Studies have also shown that spending time with dogs reduces stress levels on a physical and mental scale. I want you to think about introducing a furry friend to the family, maybe not a station dog, but one that you and your crew can all see together on a fairly regular basis. I find that it helps me get through the day-to-day things that pile up on me.

It is my hope that in reading this, it might help you too. So next time you sit down after calls with your crew, and a cup of coffee in hand, bring a furry friend to hangout with and let them watch your back for a change.

Many of us are social people; we are a family, as you very well know. Day-to-day we tend to compartmentalize, though. The little things build up and can knock us off our game. My hope is that by being open and having a plan in place for ourselves, we will be prepared for when the little things have piled too high or “that call” hits you. In my mind, it’s just one logical thing to do to keep us a little bit sane. Think about it, talk to your crew, and make a difference for them and you.

After all, I am here for we, and we are here for them. Bump up and plan.

– Lt. Will “Grandpa” Parry

– State of Alaska

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0846

At 0846 Tuesday September 11th, the United States took a hit on the north tower of the World Trade Center. At 0903 a second passenger airliner slammed into the south tower.

The Battalion Chief assigned to Battalion 1 witnessed the impact of the plane from the corner of Church and Lispenard Streets. He immediately signaled a second alarm and proceeded to the World Trade Center. En route, B1 requested additional resources by transmitting a third alarm at 8:48 a.m.

I was driving to school for the first time, the attacks happened the day after my 16th birthday. Anybody that has followed me personally on Station Pride knows I’m 4th generation. I was born into this. I’m bred to help people. Even as early as 1995 when I was 9 years old, I could feel the urge to help the victims of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. I’ve had the desire to serve my entire life it feels like.

My story isn’t much different than many firefighters around the world. Almost all firefighters know when that switch flipped, they remember when they made that decision to pursue what I personally believe is the greatest career there is.

We watched TV the whole day at school on 9/11. I witnessed on national TV as the second plane turned and slammed into the building. It wasn’t until 2005 that my fire service career started, and when it started I was in the generation of firefighters that were labeled the “post 9/11 firefighters”. That label has driven me for years, to prove throughout my career thus far that I am in this for more than the firefighter title. I did not start this career to get the attention we all saw the FDNY receive after they lost so many brothers in one single incident. It has driven and motivated me for 10 years now.

 
In 2013 I found and decided to attempt the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. 110 floors, full gear and SCBA. Climbing with 343 firefighters, 70 police officers. It’s a humbling experience too because no matter how prepared you think are, it’s not enough. The stair climb starts early in the morning. Participants get to the staging area early, get signed in and then get unto their groups. It’s eerie quiet at first, at the base of the 55 floor building we’ll be climbing. As the crowd grows we all begin to either relax or our nerves make us start to get “loose” meeting fellow brother and sisters. A little closer to start time we dress in our gear, just like we do day in and day out but this time it’s different. This time it’s for a cause and it’s emotional. When it’s time we walk out of the staging area. We gather in the street at the base of the building and we listen to speakers, we pray, we say the pledge. We wave and take pictures. Then it starts.


At 0846, with a sound recording of planes flying, an explosion, the pipes and drums begin.

The goosebumps hit, the nerves in your gut get a little worse and your eyes get a little wet. The group piles into a line, we circle in front of the stage the speakers were just on, make a left and then we have an opportunity to lay a hand on a piece of red iron from one of the towers. That water in your eyes get a little thicker, there’s a ball in your throat fighting for space with your heart in the same place, the pipes and drums still playing, right next to you. You can feel the drums in your chest.


As you pass the red iron from the tower you enter the building. That’s the last time most of the people there to support “their firefighter” will see them until the end. That’s when it hits you that you aren’t doing this for you, your climbing because they climbed. FDNY firefighters climbed and climbed, floor after floor helping people out of those towers. Climbing further to reach the floors in which they had no idea if there were survivors or not. Without hesitation and unselfishly they climbed. Knowing full well the dangers, knowing the structural integrity has been greatly reduced. They climbed to help people they have never met before, and may never see again after a few moments in a stairwell. They climbed to their death, doing a job that is in the heart of every firefighter.

“We climb because they climbed.”

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Ghosts

Any amount of time put into this career will most certainly riddle the corners of your brain with calls that shake you, give you chills and/or wake you up with cold sweats, some months or even years after the run. We all have them or something like them. I call them my “ghosts”. Everybody handles them different, some are good at separating themselves from the incident and never think twice about it. Some wear every bad run on their sleeves, and you know, that’s ok too.

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Without too many details, one of my “ghosts” that visits me regularly is from a Christmas eve fatality wreck. Kids in an unfortunate circumstance put my crew and myself on a scene that would later prove difficult to separate myself from, because of a decision I made in a split second that could have not only cut my career short but could have potentially made a patient unable to walk ever again.
That’s just one of a few I have, I handled it my way and went on about life. Some don’t handle these calls easily and others never even show a sign that they cared. But what resources do you have if you need to talk about your “ghosts”. At that time all I really had was my brothers, which I think should be our number one crutch for situations like these. Some departments have a full blown PTSD resource, which is great and had i asked, my department might have had one as soon as possible but I don’t actually know.image

The point I’m trying to make is to use your resources, make an effort to rid yourself of your “ghosts” when they begin to interrupt your daily life. Discuss with your brothers, your officers or chief officers whenever you need to. Get it off your chest, get help. Professional and volunteer civil servant suicide rates are way too abundant. Firefighters are notoriously tough, BUT IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU LESSER OF A MAN TO REACH OUT TO YOUR BROTHERS OR ANYBODY ELSE FOR SOME HELP.

For Help with your ghosts Visit FireStrong.org
For Help with your ghosts Visit FireStrong.org