I am going to start this article off with a minor disclaimer before we get into the meat of the post.
First, yes, I said meat…and this is not going to be anything about fire department-related decals. For all you Ricky Rescue whacker-babies, I apologize.
Memorial stickers, roadside crosses adorned with flowers, wreaths, bears and any other sort of roadside memorial markers are seen all over the place by passers-by. Literally coast to coast, city streets, major highways and winding dirt roads have something that people use to get a little closer, and there is nothing wrong with it.
What people outside emergency services don’t know or consider is what that scene looked like before it was cleaned up enough to open the roadway back up. What the cars looked like just after the wreck. What the scene was like when we were inside the cars, trying to save a life.
What that scene looks like inside our minds every time we pass one of those roadside reminders.
In and around the city I currently work for, there are three different memorial decals that the locals have for three separate incidents that I just so have happened to have been called to. These three wrecks stand out to me because of the nature of each call. All three scenes involved a fatality or multiple fatalities and all have permanently scarred my mind. I literally see those stickers daily. Is it wrong of the owner to have them? Of course not. Do they, would they or should they understand why I cringe when I look up and read a name or see a date? Again, of course not. It’s my job. I signed up for this.
As I mentioned in my article “Ghosts,” I had made a decision on one of those fatality calls that could have jeopardized my career, and not only that, the quality of life of a patient that lived in the same passenger compartment. I have since handled that ghost. It comes back every time I drive down that street or see one of the window decals. Another decal I regularly see is usually in the morning when I drop my son off at school. The people ahead of me don’t know me from Adam, and in fact, I don’t know them. But I do know the names on their back window. I go back to that cold, muddy morning. A splintered telephone pole, air bags deployed, crushed metal and that smell…
We ALL know about it. I can smell it every time I see those names.
The crosses I see along the two most highly-traveled highways around have multiple crosses/memorials laid out at locations that I can remember the scene. I can remember the rubble and devastation that had occurred just moments before our arrival.
There are 2-3 along the highway while traveling one direction and a few more while coming back. One location the patient was not from here, and it’s obvious by the condition of the cross as it was placed some six years ago. That guy was ejected, pinned under the vehicle and had a limb entrapped between a passenger door and the “B” post. The entire scene was on top of an ant bed.
Another set, yes “set”, of crosses sit at a railroad intersection in the response area of my first volunteer department. I make it a point to go by there once a year or so.
I can picture all those faces like it happened yesterday, and that wreck was nearly ten years ago. I get a vacant look on my face; I can almost feel it. My mind races back to the incident that memorial was dedicated for. I relive it for a few seconds, and I drag my brain back to whatever it was I was doing.
Am I any different than any of the firefighters reading this right now?
NOT AT ALL!!!
My ghosts do not affect my day to day. Generally speaking, I have pretty good control. My situation is more of a traumatic scene observation more than a direct traumatic experience towards me. I speak a little more openly about it than most firefighters I know, and that scares me. I’m scared for them.
We all have ghosts, skeletons, and demons. We all have scenes in our minds of calls that we cannot ever forget. You know what? It is completely OK to handle your mental health however you see fit within healthy and legal limitations, of course.
I have handled my ghosts, and I handle them every day. One call specifically, I have not gone a day without seeing that kid’s face, and I have dealt with it in my own way. I have reached out to a mentor. I have stress outlets in my life, and I know for a fact that I have a support team if I ever need one. A few days after the incident, I was speaking with a mentor about it on duty. I had to get it off my chest. Right in the middle of the conversation the bells rang for an ambulance call. I had fallen, and I had gotten back on my horse.
Just like you do!
We are here for each other.
First responder mental heath and suicide is something I refuse to take lightly. I’ve known people that have taken their lives because of the things they couldn’t get out of their heads.
They didn’t ask for help.
Below is a link for two of our already published articles. Also, below is the website and a suicide prevention phone number directed specifically for first responders.
Suicide Risk Factors
Many have pointed out that the risk factors for suicide mirror the population of the fire service. Importantly, it has also been noted that thousands of signs, symptoms and risk factors have been reported by various organizations. Using those risk factors to try and predict who will attempt or commit suicide has thus far proven to be challenging even for professionals. The Center For Disease Control has listed the following prominent characteristics as some of the possible contributing factor for increased risk of suicide:
- family history of suicide and/or child maltreatment.
- previous suicide attempt.
- history of mental disorders and/or alcohol/substance abuse.
- feelings of hopelessness.
- impulsive or aggressive tendencies.
- local epidemics of suicide.
- isolation from others.
- barriers to treatment including stigma.
- loss (relational, social, work, or financial).
- physical illness.
- access to lethal means.
Although it is not necessary for all of these risk factors to be present for someone to commit suicide, they should be used to raise your index of suspicion. If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, don’t hesitate to act.
- I Ideation– Having suicidal thoughts or ideations
- P Purposelessness– feeling no reason for living
- A Anxiety – anxiety or agitated with insomnia or excessive sleep
- T Trapped– feeling no way out of the situation they are in
- W Withdrawal – Withdrawal from friends, family, or society
- A Anger– Uncontrolled anger or rage
- R Recklessness – Acting or engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
- M Mood – Dramatic mood changes
You can remember these actions through KNOW, ASK, LISTEN, CONNECT. DO NOT AT ANY TIME PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER. IF THE PERSON IN CRISIS HAS A WEAPON OR IS AN IMMEDIATE DANGER TO SELF AND/OR OTHERS, CALL 911 RIGHT AWAY.
Mediocrity is a dangerous blight on the fire service. In volunteer and full-time departments alike, we accept mediocrity in our equipment, personnel and even in ourselves. Unfortunately, as a result, our brothers and sisters, families and community all suffer.
Low manpower is a large problem in a lot of rural volunteer departments. In some cases, they take what they can get, but is this always what’s best? In my opinion, a lack of firefighters is far better than a bad or dangerous one. Firefighters who don’t hold themselves to a standard, don’t train, or don’t think they should are far deadlier than the fires we are fighting.
The majority of our line of duty deaths in the fire service are result of this mediocrity at times. Our health not being a priority results in heart attack LODD’s. Not wearing our PPE as it was designed results in failures and deaths or injuries. Not wearing our seat belts on every call at all times can take a life on that one time it isn’t worn. Even a cultural attitude in your department can be detrimental. Having a “just deal with it/get over it” attitude can breed depression and other mental issues that can ultimately take over and even end a person’s life.
Holding ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the fire service accountable to the standards we should be at is key to ending the mediocrity.
Even at a low level in the department, you can create change by leading by example. It will take time, and it won’t be easy but it can be done. I myself am, by far, not the perfect firefighter, but as of today, I vow to better myself mentally and physically and hold myself to a standard that I should be at. I have a long ways to go, but it needs to be done. I will no longer accept myself in my current state as I am not in the best shape to help my community and support my brothers and sisters. Will you do the same?
Firestrong is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.
- 24/7/365 Independent Fire Crisis Network Line: 602.845.FIRE (3473)
- Mental health information and assessments
- Peer support and testimonials with confidentiality
- Live online chat with professionals
- Counseling & what to expect FAQs
- Free counseling services contact our Experts tab on the Landing page
- Online self help tool through a partnership with Mindability
- Education regarding current medical insurance mental health benefits
- Resources for financial fitness
- Legal backup options
- Crisis Intervention steps
- Member and family services
- Free mental wellness assessments
Firestrong overall goals:
Firestrong.org is designed to be a point of reference for fire service members and their families. Most of this site is available to anybody and is not restricted in anyway. However, departments can use this site as a starting point for their members and have their departments personalized resources placed on this site for additional support. Interested departments should contact us for more information.
Firestrong can also offer a tailor log-in for your department:
- Secured log-in for your members to gain access to a variety of your tools including testimonials
- Placement of your departments logo within the site
- Marketing tools
- Ongoing informational updates and upkeep of websites resources and social network
- Access to Mindability, an online self-help, self-paced program designed to build resilience in your members
Future goals include:
- Ongoing Research for Retiree education
- Ongoing resiliency training
Fitness. Diet. Mental Wellness.
Firefighter health and wellness is one of those topics that immediately turns off most readers. It’s not a fun topic to read about and for most people its hard to acknowledge our weaknesses. Likewise, trying to get firefighters to admit their weaknesses is nearly impossible.
Responding to car accidents, trauma victims, fires, destruction, disasters, untimely and timely deaths, blood, screaming, dire situations, rescues, shootings, stabbings, domestic, violence, toxic chemical spills… we handle it all. Each call takes a little piece of us without us even realizing it.
The average citizen would take the action of breaking a window as being extreme or performing CPR for the layperson would be a life changing experience, where for us, it’s all part of daily life on the job. There is a necessary tendency where we have to remove the emotion of the situation in order to mitigate it. Repeating that action over a career has the ability to produce adverse mental health consequences. Sometimes I think we’re just here to bare witness to the worst humanity has to offer and somehow deal with it.
Mental illness in firefighters should be an expectation instead of a rare or embarrassing occurrence. Granted we are a unique breed of people where we can accept the tragedies of the days events and go back to normal life, however, when coupled with the mental challenges of running calls, add in a careers worth of sleep deprivation, poor diet, inadequate exercise, family stress, anxiety leading to depression…and you get the picture. Each one, individually, can deliver an entire host of problems. Together it’s almost a guaranteed recipe for struggle.
As firefighters, we tend to mask , hide, or deny there is anything wrong with us. Some of us are affected more than others, while few, seemingly, aren’t affected at all. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that we have souls, a heart, and a conscience. At times in our life we could all use a guide map or directions.
Station Pride is taking the initiative to promote firefighter health and wellness. A cornerstone of taking pride in the fire service is to take pride in ourselves and each other. We all need to remove the stigma of mental health and obesity, address suicide prevention, PTSD support, and addiction assistance, while promoting positive mental health, physical fitness, and practical healthy eating.
Our initiative involves pulling together existing and amazing resources for firefighters to seek guidance or receive the assistance they may need. We will post regular wellness articles and content provided by FireStrong.org, Firefightersweightloss.com, and Tongs and Turnouts.
Please stay tuned and help Station Pride end the stigma of mental health while assisting brothers and sisters with weight-loss and diet change by making these topics a part of everyday firehouse conversation. It’s time we take the lead on changing the culture of our profession. It’s past time
Firestrong.org is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.
Most who participate in the profession start off fit and at least close to reasonable weight standards. Unfortunately, many gain weight and find it difficult or impossible to lose weight. They struggle to maintain enough fitness to pass whatever testing may be required for continued service. The emphasis for many is to “protect their right” to continue in the service.
Many give up hope that they can lose weight and place themselves at great risk because they are over weight or obese. Here at “FireFightersWeightLoss.com” we understand and have experienced the problem.
Tongs and Turnouts is an Facebook page operated by a firefighter/brother in Australia. They provide amazing meal ideas for the fire station. Give them a follow and try to incorporate some of their practical and healthy meals with your shift. Every fireman loves a good feed! This page is to help share ‘Firies’ love of good food, and recipes for/from station cook ups.