The article, PTSD, are we selling a lie, has quite a few great points and hits on so much that is true for the fire service. I could not agree more with the following quote: “We as firefighters hold greater respect and dignity in the public eye than nearly any profession on earth, and the reason is simple, we are there when you need us. It is time for the fire service to move beyond education of PTSD and psychological wellness in the fire service, and to shift its focus towards preventative measures that begin at the recruitment process and build from a foundation of personnel who are prepared for the task that lies before them, who are prepared to show up and perform, fully aware that no one else is coming if we fail.” This is the heart of the problem for those in the fire service. We are called to help folks in crisis, and as a result, we feel that we must always be prepared to be the helpers.
In as much, we fear that if we have any sort of weakness, we will be deemed unfit. However, where this article can harm more than benefit, and what causes me to cringe is the title and the following: “According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (2016), PTSD and its underlying consequences have taken the lives of at least 131 firefighters and EMS workers in 2016 alone (Dill, 2016), and that’s only in the United States.” When we attribute every fire service suicide to PTSD and the underlying consequences of PTSD, we silence those who are suffering from other issues unrelated to PTSD and issues that fester if left untreated into a major crisis: Depression, alcoholism, divorce, family problems, health problems, etc.
PTSD is a huge consequence of the job and is an injury that if left untreated can be devastating. We absolutely must take measures to ensure that people who have PTSD know they are having normal reactions to extraordinary situations. Treatment is available, and treatment helps! However, it is not the only cause of fire service suicide and to say that it can be damaging. Public servants are human, and it is normal to have highs and lows in life. However, if the lows are not cared for, they can snowball. Firefighters afraid to share their struggles tend to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol. However, like CO & HCN, depression and alcoholism can be toxic twins. Alcoholism leads to poor choices and poor health which just makes everything worse and can be deadly.
So attributing 100% of firefighter suicides to PTSD only will cause members who are struggling with other risk factors to suffer in silence and be ashamed to admit the issues they are facing. Like I said, the article hit the nail on the head when it recommended that we need to shift towards preventative measures. However, these are not always going to be built during the recruitment process. Of all the work I have done and research I have conducted, Dr. Thomas Joiner has come up with a model that explains suicide. His model has yet to be disproven and is 100% relatable to the fire service. First and Foremost, Stigma = Fear + Ignorance. The stigma behind suicide is directly related to the ignorance surrounding the causes. Fear is ok, but we must eliminate ignorance through education.
For example, science has proven that 95% of those who complete suicide had a mental disorder such as depression or alcoholism. What this tells me is, if we stop fearing treatment and learn how to admit that: “HEY, IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK!” then we will learn to ask for help when we need it, rather than suffer in the silence of our misery and continue to turn to other mechanisms.
Dr. Joiner’s theory is simple, while there are a lot of causes that lead to suicide: PTSD, Depression, Alcoholism, Divorce, Substance abuse, etc. , there is only one common final pathway that leads to suicide: Loneliness plus feeling like a burden will create a desire to die, and this desire translates into lethal behavior only in the presence of acquired capability or a learned fearlessness. Most firefighters do not realize that the job allows us to develop this fearlessness quicker than the general population. This next quote is directly from Dr. Joiner in 2011 at the NFFF suicide summit: “Put more directly, it may well be that firefighting in itself does not increase a firefighter’s risk for suicide and may, in fact, provide some protection. But when those protections, for whatever reason, are weakened, and other factors in the firefighter’s life serve to compound risk, the capacity to actually take that final action may be greater. Accordingly, it is not necessarily that firefighters die by suicide at greater rates than others but rather that factors known to affect anyone’s life can become all the more difficult for a firefighter if the bonds and perceptions that make the occupation so attractive and compelling are lessened or lost. This provides a salient framework from which to consider the roles that fire departments and fellow firefighters can play in prevention, intervention, and survivor support.”
So yes, PTSD is a huge problem, and members must learn that it is an injury, and treatment can help. We can not try to get through on our own. BUT!!! PTSD is not the only thing that causes us to take our lives. This article, without realizing so, is just another reason for somebody who so desperately needs help for their underlying problem that may or may not be work-related to suffer in silence because they fear their problem is not worthy of help.
So what can we do? We can encourage members to reach out for help. We can follow the amazing framework of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team, http://www.ilffps.org/. Matt Olson, Executive Director, states: “I am reading this, and I think a problem with the PTSD awareness movement is it forgets that depression is a huge part of suicides. More importantly, if we look to PTSD as the “heroic” injury, it makes people with depression less likely to stand up and take care of themselves.” The ILFFPS team’s mission is to simply create a safe environment where folks can admit that they are not ok. Peer support is available 24/7 and as a result has the ability to lessen the loneliness factor of Dr. Joiner’s theory.
When peer supporters recognize that an individual needs more than just peer support, the team has access to their trained clinical team who possess the power to eliminate the burdensome component. Feeling as though one’s death is worth more than their life is almost always a misperception that requires treatment. A study by the American Association of Suicidology found that 78% of people who attempted suicide, had significant regret. This means, these people simply needed help for their underlying problems and felt powerless.
As stated by Chief Dan Degryse of the Chicago Fire Department, “Suicide is just one outcome for an individual that can manifest for some time before he or she reaches the decision to die by suicide.” Intervention is key to prevention and making it ok to say you’re not ok is the key to intervention. A seminal study was published in 1978 by Richard Seiden on 515 people who were restrained from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Of those who received mental health treatment, 95% were still alive decades after the study or died of natural causes. Treatment works!
Spreading the message that the fire service must create a safe environment to admit when one is not ok and allow members to continue to serve while receiving assistance for their underlying issues is critical to prevention. Matt Olson and the ILFFPS are doing it right by spreading the message that it’s ok to not be ok and therapy helps. Sometimes just talking to a peer is enough and sometimes you need a little more help, but it’s ok to not be ok! And it’s ok for the reason that you are not ok to be something outside of the job.
Firefighters are human and susceptible to stress, depression, and anxiety just like every other human. “At any given time, around 5 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing major depressive disorder. The disorder involves sadness, insomnia, loss of energy, and the like, and it causes serious distress and affects people’s lives negatively. But in the majority of the cases, it does not involve psychosis, dementia, intoxication, or delirium” Joiner, 2009.
There is no weakness in admitting you’re not ok, only strength.
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, 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 because 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
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.
Just mentioning the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD probably has you running for the hills right now but trust me, it doesn’t have to be a scary subject. Every firefighter in this world is willing to take on any risk to save another person’s life. Sometimes that risk means witnessing or engaging in a crisis that would be unthinkable for the average Joe on the street to handle. You jump in on someone’s worst day of his or her life and at times risk your life for the sake of theirs. With that said, sad to say it, but that means you have witnessed a traumatic event. When you witness a traumatic event, it puts you at risk for developing PTSD. It puts you at greater risk to develop PTSD when you continuously witness traumatic events. It probably sounds a lot like your day-to-day life as a firefighter, endlessly witnessing trauma.
There is such limited information out there to let you know what the stats say about PTSD amongst firefighters. The most consistent, predicted number out there says that about 37% of firefighters show signs or symptoms of PTSD. You would think that number would be higher since it is pretty safe to say that 100% of you witness at least one traumatic event throughout the course of your career. You’re probably laughing right now because that number is probably way higher than one.
Whether it was by choice or by chance, the way that a firehouse is set up, and the way that your schedule works is a protective factor that reduces your risk to develop PTSD. Protective factors are a fancy way of saying that there is something in place that helps you reduce the risk of developing PTSD. Psychologists, actually let’s call them head docs; they had to develop a fancy way to say it that sounded smart. It looks better in our field when we sound smart.
So let’s look at what these protective factors are and how you can rely on them to process through any traumatic event that you might come across. Because let’s face it, the next alarm that goes off could lead you right into someone’s worst day and your next call might be the one that is hard to forget. Your next call might be the one that plays over and over in your mind. Your next call might be the one that wakes you up at night in a pool of sweat. You never know what the next call is.
So what about these protective factors makes the risk of PTSD lower for firefighters? The fact that you live in the firehouse with the same people that are going through the same trauma with you, that in itself allows you to process events in a healthy way. You are side by side with the same people day in and day out, and they are someone with whom you can relate. You eat, sleep, shower, and who knows what else goes on in there but regardless, you do this with one another. If you were to experience an incident and then immediately return home to your family, it would make it harder to process it fully and effectively because they didn’t live the incident with you. The other protective factor is your schedule, as much as your wife, girlfriend, partner, might hate your schedule, it is a protective factor. When you work these long hours, it means that your support system is right there with you and that helps.
I know many of you think that you are invincible but even though you aren’t the average Joe, you still breathe and bleed just as they do. So just because these protective factors are in place, doesn’t mean you are invincible to developing PTSD. You should know the warning signs and talk to someone about it. Really quick. Here are some down and dirty signs to look for: If you are experiencing panic attacks, feeling numb towards emotions, difficulty concentrating, frequent nightmares, feeling extra stress or anxiousness, flashbacks to the event that feel real, or even memory loss, you might need to find someone to talk to about it. These are just some quick signs that should trigger you to dig a little deeper and see if everything is alright.
So turning to someone for help doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you are human. If you think things don’t feel right, you should listen to your body and talk to someone. At the end of the day, the world needs you and needs you to take care of yourself.
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.
The fire service is a very special field. Those of us that work in it know this, and those aspiring to enter the field hope to find out. I don’t think I have ever talked with a firefighter who didn’t love this job. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t those of us who experience burnout, depression, or just a general lack of zeal from time to time. But I believe most would say they LOVED being a firefighter. I wonder how it is that we love a job so much. Especially one that can expose us to such sorrow and destruction. Since 2001, I have had that type of love for this job. I have volunteered and understand the daily struggle of those departments. And now, I am fortunate enough to make my living riding the officers seat in a fire truck. I think I know why most of us love what we do amidst all the pain, and I also believe there are ways to make it an even better profession.
If you have been in the emergency services for any length of time, you know what you can see. Make sure you are no stranger to the programs and help offered for responders who may be “at the end of their rope” or battling the numerous demons that may creep up. We are given the numbers to chaplains, peer counselors, suicide hotlines, and employee assistance programs, and yet we still find emergency services professionals coping with things like alcoholism, depression, drug use and suicide. Why?
PTSD seems to be the buzzword/acronym of the moment. According to the Mayo Clinic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. To me, this definition may not fit the problem that responders are experiencing. After much reading and research, I think that responders are more than likely suffering from another condition called Combat Operational Stress (COS).
The reading list for a promotional exam I was studying included a book by Christopher Brennan called The Combat Position. This is an excellent book. I highly recommend it for any rank firefighter. This book was the first time I had seen any reference to COS, and the points the author makes seem very valid. The United States Marine Corps defines Combat stress as: sometimes called combat and operational stress or combat and operational stress reaction, is a common response to the mental and emotional effort active duty personnel exercise when facing tough and dangerous situations. In other words, PTSD is better used to describe the mental stress created by one event, where COS seems to reflect the cumulative type of stressors that first responders encounter.
The Marines go on to list some of the risk factors as:
– Sleeping less than 6-8 hours per day on average
– Witnessing death close up
– Losing a close friend or valued leader in combat or other operations
– Being physically injured, especially if seriously
– Close brushes with death, especially if the individual believed they were going to die
– Handling remains
– Being impacted by family, relationship, or other home front stressors
– Being young and inexperienced
I am in no way comparing the fire service to the Marine Corps, but I do find the risk factors for COS to be strikingly similar to the types of stressors that firefighters around the country may encounter. And we need to be aware of the dangers of these common stressors.
It seems clear that the fire service is made up of mostly “type A” personalities. We don’t show weakness or ask for help easily. I believe that could be the reason for the following statistic.
“Firefighter Suicides by year.”
And these numbers continue to climb as we move past 2012. One hundred and four firefighters committed suicide in 2014. We as a service should be truly shocked at these numbers. We are losing almost, and sometimes more, firefighters to suicide than we are Line of Duty Deaths. All of these “type A’s” who have dedicated their lives, and well being to making sure the people they serve stay alive, are not taking care of themselves. We don’t reach out; we bury our feelings and continue to go fix other people’s problems. WHY?
Recently my “area” has experienced the suicides of four members of the emergency services community. These have included firefighters, fire officers, and paramedics working for three different services. Receiving the news always has the same effect on my mind. It is a crushing feeling, and my thoughts seem to progress like this. Why? But he/she had so much going for them. They always seemed ok. Is there anything I could have done for them to change what they did? And it is in these times that we tend to focus on those around us. We ask members of our crew “Are you doing OK?”, “Do you need to talk about anything?”, and a genuine sense of caring arises out of such tragedy.
In the opening paragraph of this article, I spoke about the love of the job, even through the bad things we see. We love this job because we find an enormous sense of pride knowing that we have an “extended family” that will be there for us whenever we are in need. We love this job because it gives us the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We love this job because we build relationships that are closer than some siblings; we always call it “Brotherhood.” We love this job because we love each other. We don’t hesitate to ask for help to fix a roof, pour concrete, work on a car, or build something. But we need to make this “Brotherhood” stronger. We have to find ways to combat our people feeling like they have nowhere to turn. Let’s put down macho-ism. Let’s put away the fear of being mocked. Let’s be the family that we can be. Talk to each other, and truly get to know each other. All of us should have at least that one person that we can talk to; at least one person that understands you. The only hurdle to jump is to trust these “brothers” and “sisters” and be willing to talk to them.
Station-Pride author James Cook wrote an article titled “Ghosts”. If you haven’t read it, please do. I have provided a link for your viewing enjoyment at the bottom. This article is one that most of us can relate to, and may be a source of comfort for some.
I would like to share a personal experience in closing that relates to my “ghosts” and those brothers of mine that helped me through my rough time.
Sleep wasn’t coming easily. A recurring dream was keeping me awake. A vivid dream that seemed to be set on repeat, and I was getting fed up with it. My family could tell that I was distant, but it comes with the territory sometimes, right? I had been to all the classes. I was up to date on how to recognize if the guys I was working with were “too stressed out” and I was willing to help should they need me. I knew that I needed more sleep, and I knew that recurring dreams could be a symptom of stress, but I was way too tough and smart for that. I was sitting in a class with several of my peers, two of whom were sitting in front of me were good friends of mine. During a break, I asked them both this question: “What do you guys know about sleep patterns?” One of them was very knowledgeable and began to tell me all about fatigue, and its effects on the body. When he finished talking, I remember asking them: “What do you know about dreams?” They both asked what kind of dreams, and I was comfortable enough with both of them to open up.
I am walking down the highway, but there are no cars anywhere in sight. I am wearing a department t-shirt, my turn-out pants, and boots. Ahead of me, in the road, single file, I see people sitting in chairs on the highway. I approach the first chair in the line ofhundreds and recognize its occupant as a patient that had died while I was there. While I am standing in front of this chair, the person opens their eyes, looks at me, and says: “I am dead because you didn’t help me.” They then close their eyes, and I move on to the next chair, with the same result. OVER and OVER and OVER again.
I go on to explain that this dream is happening every time I fall asleep, and it’s starting to wear me out. When I look at my buddies, they are both looking back at me with a total look of concern and begin to offer any help they can to get me through this problem. One of the guys explains that what I described is a “textbook” symptom of very dangerous stress. I spend the next few weeks seeking out other brothers, and mentors trying to talk it out of my head. It worked. But I found out that I am not immune from mental stress, and certainly not too tough for mental stress.
The things we see, we can’t un-see. The dangerous things we have to do are part of the job. But I urge you to keep your eyes and ears open. Watch for the signs, in others and yourself. And be your brothers keeper. I am lucky my brothers were mine.
Stay Sharp, Stay Safe
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than he who will give up his life for a friend.
Firefighters, all too often, may lose their lives protecting the lives of total strangers.
Ghosts by James Cook:
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.