We think we have time to change department rules and revise bylaws. Problem is, we don’t. We’re on borrowed time as it is. According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, a firefighter takes his/her life every 3.25 days. That’s your brother, your sister. Two a week.
Despite the push for awareness and action, we’re failing our firefighters. PTSD, and the scope of firefighter mental health as a whole, is hardly considered the pandemic it truly is. If you’re from the passive, old school thinking of, “never! not my department,” or, “there’s nothing we can do right this instant,” do me a favor. Be sure to look into the eyes of the surviving loved ones—the faces of children left behind, of widows made—and explain that change doesn’t happen overnight. That things need to be voted on. Amended. That the fire service is traditionally reactionary, not proactive. We haven’t dealt with this before…
I’m sure they’ll understand. They’ll empathize with your excuses (let’s be honest here) as mommy’s helmet, snapshot of her beloved family taped inside, is placed in a pair of tiny hands.
As an industry, we’ve been grossly negligent when it comes to taking care of our own. We refuse to acknowledge how a lifetime (or a year!) of working this job affects us. Because who is really made to see what we do, day after day, tour after tour? Suck it up. What did you expect to see when you signed up for this? We hear stories of those who took their lives when the stressors, the flashbacks, the overwhelming doubt and stigma of appearing weak became just too much one day. We know this is happening. It’s happening at a more alarming rate than LODDs. It. Is. Happening. And we are not focusing nearly enough on how to prevent it.
I have two questions.
1.) Why wait until your firehouse is directly affected? Put a plan into action NOW.
2.) If asking for help is the hardest part, why do we not see our brothers and sisters through their struggle until they’ve successfully made it out the other side? Believe me, if all you’re handed is the number to EAP without any follow up, you will feel like a burden.
Remember, PAR extends beyond the fireground.
Kenny Chesney/Who You’d Be Today, 2005.