The Discussion EVERY Shift MUST HAVE

 

It’s going to happen so you might as well get it out on the table now

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I should admit I’ve never seen a complete episode of Rescue Me, ever. I’ve seen bits and pieces at the firehouse, but I have never intentionally sat down to see one episode from start to finish. I’m not much of a television person but I understand the gist of the show and its borderline real-world/Hollywood scenarios. It’s entertainment, so be it.

When I was at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s behavioral health weekend, the clip below was presented on the second day by Dr. Patricia Watson, former Navy clinical psychologist and current Senior Education Specialist with the National Center for PTSD. As it started I admit I thought it was going to be a play on some firefighter, machismo stereotype but I was wrong. Take a moment and watch the video.

Despite the scripted emotion the natural sentiment is real and so is the conflict about what you and others think of the suicidal victim. More recently I was part of a NFFF working weekend to create strategies for dealing with firefighter suicide. Dr. Watson and other experts in the field were on hand to present their latest findings and how they have changed the approach toward the fire service and the tools counseling professionals will need. It was encouraging to see the advances being made and proven in the military. During that time I spoke with a firefighter who was dealing with the suicide of a coworker. A complete surprise, his shift was reeling from the loss AND the attitude of others in the department. He described to me an “it’s over, so move on” stance that was making a bad situation worse. In the end the situation was successfully resolved and became a learning tool for the whole department that I’ll have the privilege to share with you later this year.

However, the biggest issue I noticed from this friend’s struggle and what I have learned and listened to during those working weekends is this:

A fire department and its members will never be able to successfully deal with the suicide of one of their own if they don’t first talk candidly about suicide.

I’m not saying that everyone has to have a Kleenex session but they do need to flesh out how members would feel if one of their own took his or her life. The company officers and chief officers need to determine how they will manage the stress among the house and how the department will interact with the family. Everything from the simple death notification to the funeral should be up for discussion. We tend to believe that if a firefighter dies, then the department will assuredly step in and take care of the funeral, the wake, the family and memorial anniversaries but a suicide changes all of that. Willie Wines of the Iron Firemen blog has shared his personal struggle and regardless of what you think of it, what Willie experiences is real. If you show up for work some day and learn the Lineman or Tillerman took his own life the night before, your shift will have to deal with surprise, guilt, rage, sadness, shame and the list goes on. The family might want a department funeral or the chief’s office might want to sweep it under the rug. What was your best friend on the job might now be labeled a coward by the others working with you.

There is quite a bit I have lined up to write about this subject, but I strongly believe that until you and the shift have that ‘get it all out on the table’ discussion, very little else is going to make a difference. While there are no hard numbers on firefighter suicide, the current data suggests that when compared to the general population, the fire service is expected to see three times as many suicides as they do line of duty deaths.

Your department should plan now on how you will deal with a firefighter suicide.

 

Related

“A New Approach to After-Action Reports” Carey, FireRescue Magazine June 2013

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Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service, as a third generation firefighter in 1986, on the eastern shore of Maryland and then continued after moving to Prince George’s County. He served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville where he met Chris Hebert and Dave Ianonne, the creators of Firehouse.com. Bill went to work for them back in 2001 and after they transitioned away to new, bigger projects, he was hired by them again in 2009. Bill’s writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of “Fire Officer: Principles and Practice”, The Secret List and Tinhelmet.com.

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3 Comments

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    This is the elephant in the room….

     

  • Mike Teslar says:

    Bill

    The background of the episode is everything had "Fallen apart" in BC Jerry Reilly's ( in real life, former FDNY FF Jack McGee) life. From his wife developing Alzeheimers, other internal family problems, the final "staw" was he was  involuntarily retired due to a heart attack releated to lung injuries suffered from 9/11 and a romantic encounter with a nurse.

    He retires and then commits sucide, but his death certificate reads "Heart Attack"

    The topic is very important in the fire service.

    Even paul Coombs has a drawing on the topic, of a firefighter asking for help.

    You mention Dr. Patricia Watson and I attended a lecture at FDIC 2011 by Beth L Murphy,Psy.D, as well as obtaining a copy of the Chicago FD case study.

     I have always kept in mind an episode of the 1970's TV program, "Police Story" in which actor Lloyd Bridges, plays an Officer who faces involuntary retirement due to Uncontrolled Hypertension and dies by "Suicide by Cop" rather than retire and again in the Joseph Wambaugh inspired Movie "The New Centurians" where one retired offcer ends his life, unable to cope with retirement.

     My deeper research in to the topic really began after 2007. With all of the LODD's that occured that year, From Baltimore, to Prince William County to the Charleston, Sofa Super Store Fire, to Boston, Contra Costa County, Noonday, Tx and the FDNY Deutcsche Bank fire with the Loss of Graffanino and Beddia.

     I found that their was one more LODD and that was their Lieutenant, John Garcia, who suffered though the loss of friends at the WTC on 9/11 and then his two crew members, he committed suicide.

     Came across, the website "I never wanted to be a Firefighter" by former Colorado Springs, Co., FF, Tim Casey and his book, "Confessions of a Fireman". As well a numerous You Tube Video's about Police Officers and Suicide.

      Its a diffult subject to address as there are the daily pressures of living, life/job responsibilites, what we see at work, how we view ourselves on and off the job and so on and how we view ourselves.

     And more work needs to be done to go beyond what is being offered now. But asking for help is difficult because of the "Stigma" of asking implies.

     

     

     

  • Dave says:

    Thanks for having the stones to put this info. out there. If through your efforts and others we can save one brother or sister then you have made a positive change in the fire service and that is really what we should all aspire to do in one way or another.

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Comments
Bill Carey
What is Experience?
You're correct Ed. What did we do with that experience? Did we take as many lessons from as we could or did we simply file it away as a run in the logbook. Thank you, Bill
2014-10-30 12:55:18
Ed
What is Experience?
Excellent post. The same question may be framed for other than working on the nozzle (e.g., if delivering pump operator training). In addition, even if you went to a lot of fires on the nozzle or as the first in company officer, what did you do with that experience? Reflection and integration of the experience…
2014-10-30 12:37:50
Bill Carey
Wanted: Honest Discernment in Our Fire Service Discussions
Thank you Ed.
2014-10-22 14:26:50
Ed Hartin
Wanted: Honest Discernment in Our Fire Service Discussions
Excellent article Bill!
2014-10-14 12:47:14
Ron Ayotte
Complacency and Awareness: History Lessons from the Mog and Rangers
Bill.. I agree with Tony C. The situations we respond to sometimes reuire that we tune and tweak SOPs and SOGs "on the fly" in order to complete the tasks given. Fire doesn't care what is stated in our SOPs/SOGs.
2014-10-11 22:14:29
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