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Firefighting is a career many dream about doing. I remember as a kid I couldn’t wait to be a firefighter. My dad would take me to the station when a call came in to open the bay doors. It was the highlight of any kid’s life. The day I could join the fire service I was ready to go. I dedicated all my spare time to doing and knowing the fire service. I became a Captain at 23 and started in a leadership role. I took every class available that you could take. Basic, structural, vehicle rescue, haz-mat, fire brigade and many more. If it was available at the school I was going. Unfortunately there was one class I didn’t take and that was mental health. The most important part of every firefighter I didn’t care for, the mind. I got burned out real quick and got to a point of no turning back.
In 2010 I took a different path. I started focusing on helping other firefighters avoid the burnout and behavioral health problems that plague so many in the fire service. As I started getting more involved I start to realize how big the problem actually was. I talked with firefighters all over the country who had or knew of someone that lost it all. We forget the most important part of the firefighter and that is the mind. Every school I went to and not one training on my mental health. It just wasn’t offered and in many fire schools across the country it still isn’t. We need to start implementing these trainings nationwide. The fire service leaders need to step in and start changing the mentality. We need to change the you are weak to its ok to get help.
Unfortunately when i think that we’re making progress I see or read a comment about the ignorance that still exists in the fire service community about behavioral health problems. With all the evidence available people still believe that addiction and mental health issues are a moral issue. That individuals who suffer with these problems just can’t handle the job. That somehow they’re weaker than the rest of us. It’s very sad that grown adults can’t educate themselves about behavioral and mental health issues to the point that they change their perspective on these issues. If a Chief of a department thinks this way it’s almost definite that the ones underneath will follow suit.
The beauty of what I do is I get to see firefighters who get better. Many times they come back to the department better than they ever were. The problem is often times they face ridicule from fellow firefighters for their time away. When many come back they face challenges of earning their respect back. Some firefighters will never let them earn it back and that’s unfortunate. If you know of a fellow firefighter who received help try to work with them. Let them know you support their decision and you’re there for them if they need it. This will make there recovery so much better. If you notice a lack of behavioral health training talk to your training officer to bring in a class. If you don’t fully understand the issues that can be faced then do some research on the problems. We all can do a little better for each other a little step at a time.