Wins and losses = PTSD

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It is by the numbers they say, we live our lives in columns of wins and losses. Every day we, the human beings walking this gigantic greenhouse we call earth walk out the door and in the blink of an eye easily break down our existence to nothing more than wins and losses.

From the time we can understand the gibberish coming from our parent’s lips we are told to pick our battles, get along with others, speak only when spoken too, judge not lest ye be judged, and we can be anything we choose to become yet be prepared for the struggle that may lay ahead.

Every one of those tidbits of wisdom revolve around wins and losses.

It further convolutes our mental wellbeing as we grow older. For we no longer look to our parents for sage advice. These challenges be it work, relationships, sports, after hours activities, projects and dreams of our own that must be chased can all be boiled down to wins and losses! We take them on; lumps to the head, body and mind be dammed! We are adults now and can handle our own business.

We hear it all the time! WINNNING!!! Or man you are such a loser. An assumption made upon a moment, movement or emotional situation resulting in an action, deed or punishment.

Therefore our societal needs dictate we win! Nothing brings fame, fortune, happiness or simple satisfaction more than winning! When we are younger and we win at a team sport, that moment of exhilaration is breath taking, amazing, a real high produced by natural endorphins leaving us exhausted upon its retreat from our system.

But when we lose if we are truly driven individuals we strive harder for success, fighting, clawing, learning, adapting, becoming one who grows and develops into that winner or winning individual again. Why? Because we crave that sensation, we lust for that endorphin rush, we yearn to be someone or something special, not just in our own eyes or the eyes of the ones we love but in everyone’s eyes!

So no matter what we chose to do in life, thanks to the imprinting our parents and society have placed upon us (and this not a bad thing mind you, just stay with me) we are left with wins and losses, our whole life can be simplified into easily accessible columns of wins and losses.

It is what makes us as human beings strive for the very best. It is what I believe keeps us getting up every day and moving forward, no matter how difficult life can and does become.

I read a story the other day about a fire captain in southern California who took it upon himself while out driving to stop his vehicle upon a highway overpass, place the vehicle in park, walk to the security fence, scale that fence and jump to the freeway below. He met his untimely end at the front of a semi-truck. It should never have happened.

Last year according to the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA 132 firefighters took their own lives in this great nation. One Hundred and Thirty Two firefighters woke up one morning and could no longer bear the thought of waking up another day.

We as a firefighting family are not doing a good enough job.

Those 132 human beings who sacrificed their lives for their community on a daily basis were let down by us their firefighting family. 132 lives taken, more than by injury or illness last year. Gone forever.

WE ARE LOSING

Firefighters take the wins and losses columns we are engrained with from childhood and we amplify them, placing them under a magnifying glass within our heads. Those win and loss columns mean more to us than our sports rec league basketball team, or our children’s baseball team. Winning at a football fantasy league or winning by finishing the build on your deck. Everything in life fits into these columns of success or failure and when it comes to our chosen profession they mean so much more because lives are attached within each column.

The way I see it we are failing to recognize that although we will never feel as though it is ok to lose, we do lose and we need to talk about it. We need to talk about those losses and how they affect us emotionally when we pull off the uniform. We need to quit treating these losses as if they are the elephant in the room everyone sees but no one wishes to speak about.

Imagine everyday going to work, trying hard and though you have minor wins here and there the losses over time begin to pile up. In the beginning of your career its ok, you rebound well and pretend to not keep track. But after several years those losses begin to wear you down and after a while you can no longer pretend they don’t exist. You stop waking up each morning thinking like a winner! You begin to dread that first cup of coffee where before you would grab it on the way out the door thinking today is the day for another win!

The wins are there, don’t get me wrong, but soon stopping the spread of fire through a structure quickly or rescuing a family from an overturned vehicle doesn’t equate to the loss of life you have been party too. You feel remorse for not having done the job better, or quicker because in the end people are still injured and some things just can’t be unseen! The feeling of success slowly becomes fewer and father between.

Someone once told me that each incident truly bothering me is like a rock, and I am coping by placing those rocks in an emotional back pack. The problem is no one has taught me how to unload the back pack, so I walk around with more weight than I can bear on a daily basis and someday it will be so heavy the thought of just giving up, no longer wishing to carry this backpack will enter my mind.

We wear the wins on the outside, we carry the losses in our backpack. We are no longer well balanced and what we carry around is just our work, let alone what we load onto ourselves from our personal home life. Like a rat in an unwinnable maze we become emotionally trapped.

The faces from our past begins haunting us, showing up at incidents, during our family time, holidays and worst of all in our sleep, our dreams. We transfer guilt and blame, death and loss onto those we love and we hate ourselves for every minute our psyche allows participation in this pointless mental interaction.

This Christmas when you are with family and friends look around, is there a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical worker with you? Talk with them, show them love, let them know how very grateful you are to have them in your life. They may not be reeling from stagnation within the wins and losses column, their back pack may not be full, but if they have been doing any of these glorious jobs for any amount of time they might not yet recognize its ramifications. They only need an ear, an ability to tell a story, and be allowed to feel everything is ok.

If one of these people you know shows any signs of depression, withdrawal or strange behavior, don’t be afraid to lend a hand. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them and find the assistance they need. Be that pillar of strength they are looking for.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this; on this Christmas Eve 2016 it is all I can think about. That somewhere out there a person such as myself is wondering if another is ok. If they need help, and is there anything that can be done to help them. We can’t keep losing, we can’t keep feeling as though we are losing and we can no longer turn a blind eye to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the emergency services field.

1 firefighter lost is one to many, 132 is simply unacceptable! I don’t have the numbers for Police or Emergency Services (ER rooms, Ambulances) but we are one large family. Let’s work hard to make 2017 the breakout year for PTSD acceptance. Build programs so our own can reach out to help our own who are struggling.

No firefighter should feel as though the only option they have is to scale a fence and jump. Leaving behind everything they ever loved, everything that fell into the win column on a daily basis.

Be thankful for what you have, for who you love and for who loves you in return. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year..

Betty….

If you sense someone is in trouble:

Call 911

The National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Contact the 10-33 foundation for more information

www.1033foundation.org

Betty’s AKA:

Fire Engineer James Franceschi

22 years of service to the citizens of Dixon California

 

 

 

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He wasn’t just a horse…

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When we received the phone call my wife sat me down and prepared me for the next statement. No it wasn’t anything drastic, we had been looking for a cutting horse for some time hoping to start Jake in that direction.

But with myself having grown up around horses and on a working horse farm she knew the words coming out of her mouth were instantly going to be met with resistance.

“I think we found a horse for Jake, I am going with our friend to look at him”

Me: Cool you found a nice gelding for Jake to ride?

Her: Um, no he’s a stud.

Cue: opinionated, I know more than you, obnoxious, are you freaking crazy look.

I ranted for a minute or two about the dangers of a stud in conjunction with no child should be on, near or around a stud let alone further learn, hone or develop their cutting skills aboard a stud! WE DON’T NEED IT, DON’T WANT IT, AINT HAVING ANY OF IT!!

Lil War Peppy- A.K.A Tank arrived at our doorstep the next day, out of shape, with long incorrect feet and a studly bellow which let everyone know on our ranch that although he didn’t exactly look the part, he was the new master of this domain.

I shook my head.

Tank was born April 6 1992 on Village Creek Ranch in Burleson Texas. He was born a direct son to the great world champion Stud Peppy San Badger who was introduced into the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame in 2008. Yes he had royalty in his veins and soon enough we would see it shine through.

He traveled around a bit after his four year old year, moving to Wynnewood Oklahoma, the Compass R Ranch in Campbell Texas and through a sheer stroke of luck after a series of unfortunate events our little Blue Sky Ranch right here in Winters Ca.

We knew the minute this out of shape, screwy footed horse stood in front of a cow inside an open arena we had in fact made the right choice.

The very moment he unloaded out of the trailer and I was finally able to be face to face with this majestic diamond in the rough I knew my wife was right, and I needed to just shut the hell up.

I heard about these fabled stallions, the ones that don’t act like idiots all the time that actually listen, even when surrounded by mares yet I didn’t believe. Every stud horse I had encountered my entire life had always been an idiot. Oh some were sweet as pie as long as they were isolated or surrounded by very docile geldings. But never had I seen a stud who was gentler and sweeter than any gelding could ever be.

Tank took some conditioning and gentle, corrective foot care to get him back in line. He had a horrible split in his right front hoof that took almost two years to completely repair. He was a little stand offish at first and after a few weeks of me establishing some solid ground rules he slowly came to realize this was indeed his home and no one was going to pen him up or harm him in any way.

My son Jake, took to him right away, and he to Jake. The horse was a bit rusty and he favored his right side but with some solid schooling from Wes Johnson Cutting Horses and a bunch of lessons with junior aboard the two became quite a team. They rode almost every day and it wasn’t long before Tank was following Jake along like a puppy. And right there is where I saw it. I saw the look, in his eye, his neck, his relaxed demeanor and his ability to adapt to whatever Jake asked of him. Tank knew when Jake wasn’t doing it right and I can’t tell you how many times I watched that horse scoop the kid up during a run! Jake was out of position so tank would lose the advantage and place himself out of position to scoop the kid back up hoping not to lose him while getting back to work.

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Whenever Jake was around Tank would lower his head and listen intently, it was a thing of beauty. Occasionally he would remember he was a stud, but with a little correction he would fall right back into the fold and remember his place.

Now not everything was always daisies and roses, there would be times when Jake would cross up signals or Tank just simply hadn’t been warmed up enough and he would say screw you guys and get a bit broncy. One time in particular I think Jake was about 12, during a practice Tank just flat had enough of the crossed up signals bullshit and after several attempts to save the kid told him to get off! As a father in my opinion it was the greatest moment of that kid’s life! He rode that bronc all the way across the arena, with two old guys (me and Wes) screaming ride er cowboy!!!!! They made it to the furthest wall when Jake did the unthinkable. He reached out mid buck and grabbed for the fence line. One of the deadliest mistakes any cowboy can make. Grabbing the fence mid buck is a one way ticket to some missing teeth, a broken rib or face and even death. You always ride it out and if you start losing it, look for a spot out in the open where you can hit the ground and roll away without harm. Never wedge yourself between a fence and a firing set of 1400 pound hooves.

Luckily for Jake Tank bucked off the opposite direction. Jake sat for a moment stunned at what just happened. Looked at us both, started to snivel a bit and then said; DID YOU SEE THAT??? I RODE HIM!!!

We all laughed and with a little coaxing, a minute or two of schooling by Wes and Jake got right back on and finished his set. It was a defining moment for them both.

The two of them went on to win a few things and finally came up reserve grand champions in our cutting club before we figured out just why no matter what we did this horse favored his right side.

He had a bum shoulder. We will never know if he injured it as young colt or even as a young stud. He spent ten years on one ranch with little on record to show for it. But no matter the limitation that horse would always give you his best try. It was just who he was, and if he couldn’t do it he still tried.

Over the years Jake moved on to younger, more agile and skilled horses and Tank became mine. I rode him three to four times a week, keeping him in shape and would cut on him to sharpen my skills. He was solid and slow and not always correct which allowed me to focus on my riding ability instead of the horses ability to cut. As long as I always remembered to go easy on that right side, we would be just fine. I got what I needed and he always strutted out of the arena feeling accomplished.

Eventually he became my turnback horse. It was the one job he truly loved. He always knew when we were headed out to the practice ring or off to a show. He would get excited and call for me as soon as the trailer backed up to the barn. He didn’t care for corner work, but that’s because I think he wanted to cut the cows, but he loved turning back, more specifically the left side of the arena. He could push off that left front much better on the jump so he knew his place inside the fence line.

Over the last three years of his life, he taught several kids how to ride, made several more happy to have a horse to ride, was used for senior pictures and was the go to horse for our youngest Parker. Tank and I also participated in a Sutters Fort reenactment where we rode in together as mail call for the settlers. He loved doing it and would get super excited as we rode around the park surrounding Sutters Fort in downtown Sacramento. As we passed people in the park they would smile and wave and he would calm down just so they could pet him. Once away from the pedestrians his head would come up, his ears would go forward and his tail would rise. He would strut, like a king, like the boss, like a stud. Once we passed through the forts front gates, it all went away, and it was show time.

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He loved those little kids which was the strangest thing to me. When little kids came around he would put his head all the way down to their level and wait. He loved nothing more than their little hands petting his face, stroking his neck and scratching his ears. He wouldn’t move so much as a single muscle. Just stand there like a statue, ears moving back and forth, lips being licked and eyes soft and gentle, not a tense bone in his body. I had somebody tell me once that Tank looked as though if he could have laid on his back like a puppy he would have just so the kids could scratch his belly.

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Tank became my best friend.

The hours we spent talking, going for rides, helping teach kids, riding alongside others and simply being a team I could not count. He was the first place I would go when walking into our barn. The first one to get rode while others sat saddled and tied to the barn or inside the arena. He stayed with me all day as my mount for when I was helping others. We have gathered cattle, doctored cattle, branded, rode the trails, gone sorting, cutting and worked the alleyways of events. But most all of he listened and gave me consistency when I needed it most. The last three years with Jacy being sick have been hell. He has always been my favorite confidant, that non judgemental set of ears that carried me and allowed me an hour or two of normalcy during our very abnormal times.

No matter what I needed to do, where I needed to do it, be it rain or shine, this wonderful, kind, amazing animal was there for me. I truly loved him.

Tank passed away on Saturday the 17th 2016.

I got the phone call from one of our borders that he didn’t look right. He was breathing hard and not acting his normal self. She had seen him roll in his stall and he just didn’t act right after that. She sent me a video of him breathing hard and although it was hard to see I had a bad feeling.

Our barn manager showed up minutes later, calling me to say it was colic and she was starting treatment. I pulled off the freeway and we both started mass calling Vet’s to get someone there as soon as possible. By the time I arrived I knew it wasn’t good. His demeanor was poor, he was breathing very heavy and soaked in sweat. When I walked up and took him from one of the girls, he sighed heavy and just leaned into me. I stroked his mane, kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.

My heart was breaking.

Tank passed away later that afternoon.

I have lost quite few animals in my life. Some were closer than others, but losing this horse was hands down the toughest one to date. What this horse (the one I didn’t want) brought to our family was a piece of fabric that wove us all together. He was the best horse I have ever owned. I can say unequivocally that I loved him with all my heart and as he slipped away with his head near my lap, me stroking his mane, while he stayed relaxed because he trusted me, I could no longer hold back my emotions.

If you know horses, if you love horses than you know just how powerful that moment was, when a stud horse not only trusts you, but trusts you all the way to the very end. He would have done anything I asked of him and the thought of this ranch without him was and still is overwhelming to say the least.

Some will say just get over it, there are a million great horses out there, and yes I will turn the corner from sadness to fondness for all he brought us the minute he crossed through those gates. But for right now, at this very point in time, well, I haven’t even been in the barn. His stall empty, no bellow or happy snort as I walk inside to greet me and no big 1400 pound hug. It just hurts my heart way too much.

Tank is laid to rest overlooking the ranch from under the old oak tree. Right next to him is the founder of our ranch and Cooper’s good dog rescue. Cooper himself. There were two dogs Tank let follow him around. One was Cooper the other is Jack.

I hope his spirit is running wild and free with Cooper right by his side hoping we will see each other again.

I just wish I could ride him one more time, we have so much to talk about……..

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It’s time for all of us to start talking about P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

What is written below was born from a single sentence spoken to me one day after what was essentially a rough call. A group of us gathered with a well-known, well liked chaplain within our department to ensure no one either needed or didn’t need to discuss the day’s traumatic events. All was fine, we all spoke a little, shared our feelings the way we always do with a little sadness submerged inside of humor and yet; this one sentence has lingered in my head for months now, and like an aching back that needs to be stretched or an itch that you just can’t reach, I finally felt the overwhelming need to move or scratch, leading to this chaotic rant.

Driving to work at times is more difficult than you may think. I get up in the morning like everyone else does, make coffee and breakfast for my wife so she can take her medications. (My wife is suffering from GvHD or Graft vs Host Disease after a Bone Marrow Transplant) Without missing a beat my tired achy body rousts the rest of our clan from a good nights slumber. One heads out to feed animals, the other two work on breakfast, lunches and packing up homework. After a cup of coffee for myself, getting dressed and brushing teeth, I find myself making sure the entire snack drawer hasn’t been loaded into only one backpack while ensuring the teenage boy has gathered up his crap as well. I meet with the wife one last time, making sure she has taken her medications, she has enough food and supplies to last her until our oldest gets home from work and that she has a charged phone to call me in case of an emergency. Then we all hit the road, them to school and I am off to work.

We live out in the country and it is a ten mile drive to town. Some would say it’s far, I think it is just far enough. Some mornings I may point out the beauty in a sunrise, or a unique cloud formation during a storm coming over the mountain. Other mornings depending on the time of year it may be the Almond trees in blossom, Geese overhead (we live just west of the flyway) or the simple, still, eerie way fog lays upon the ground. But the reality is every turn, every stretch of roadway we travel, it is there; like a kick in the teeth or a punch to the stomach. It is always there reminding me of my life, the hidden lie we all live in regards to life and the fact that everything comes to an end in death.

I became a full-fledged probationary firefighter on June 7th, 1995. When we started we were young, brash and full of ourselves. We heard all the stories from the old timers and we couldn’t wait to step onto an engine. Through diligent hard work we successfully graduated our academy. We didn’t drop out when it got hard, we didn’t cringe or flounder through basic medical training, we thought we knew full well what we were getting into and we were damn proud to be doing it! Much like the majority of our academy class, all I ever wanted to do was help people. I have always known there was something more for me, and I still feel that way today.

When we started in station I followed the senior guys around. Dumb, ignorant with no experience what so ever, I made every effort to learn as much as I could! To listen and emulate those who paved this glorious road before me. I also went straight back to school, obtaining an E.M.T. or Emergency Medical Technician’s certification and started working on learning about the fire engineers job so I better understood what was happening at the other end of my hose line during a fire. I spent hundreds of hours soaking up firefighter skills and responsibilities, hoping to be good enough so one day the senior guys would trust me to carry out important tasks on any emergency scene. It was (the job) and still is, everything I hoped becoming a firefighter would be.

They (the old guys) really do try preparing you for every conceivable situation be it fire, vehicle accident, medical aid, haz-mat, flood, rescue etc… but there is one thing you can never be prepared for, one thing no one really wants to talk about, and that is the constant never ending death. It is not the fires, or the car accidents or even the medicals that wear down your body over time, it is the constant death that wears down your mind and even at times your resolve.

In their defense these seasoned veterans only knew from what had been passed down to them. They try, oh yes they try in their own weird humor filled way. A way we adopted as we got older, supposedly wiser with more runs under our belts. Our chief at the time warned us during our graduation ceremony with one sentence that went something like this; You can never prepare yourself for the things you will see.

How true he was, but as young kids we just laughed! You know that nervous, I am a tough bad ass laugh you usually hear right before the laughing idiot gets their teeth kicked in? Yeah that laugh. We were naïve, dumb and blinded to the realities of our world. Hell! We’d proclaim; we’ve seen death! We have watched enough horror films we knew exactly what death is, (insert chest thumping here) and yet we knew so very little. So shamefully little about death and our both personal and professional responsibility in regards to handling death.

Fast forward 21 years, back to that morning taking kids to school. Every turn on the roadway while talking to my kids a memory reminds me of an accident here, or a death over there. The father of three, ejected and if that wasn’t insult to injury enough the car rolled back over on top of him. The grandfather whose tractor flipped over on him out in that field over there and no one knew until later in the morning because well, grandpa is supposed to be out tractoring. The car that ran the stop sign at this intersection, running off the roadway and striking the culvert thus bursting into flames. Once we cross over the freeway into town, we pass a house where I held a child screaming and crying because no matter what we did, or how hard we tried his mommy died, right there in front of him.  I wonder where that now grown young man is today. That white house over there, we did compressions on a 24 year old drug overdose or two blocks over when the roommate came home to find his best friend had hung himself in the hallway. Drop the kids off at school and I drive by a house where we had the pleasure of searching and dragging the families’ dogs from a house fire. Those dogs were this couple’s world and although some would say they are just dogs, to some people those dogs may as well have been their children. We couldn’t save them, they sobbed on the front lawn as we carried out fire operations. Hey right here at the intersection where I sit at every morning is the site where we did CPR on an elderly man as his wife gently whimpered up against the wall. I can still see him lying there, I can still feel her grief. Those are just a few of the road signs as I call them that I look at every morning on the way into town. There are hundreds more, they are just not on this particular route. Oh well back to meeting with our well respected chaplain.

After every borderline call, or semi disturbing sounding response this one lone sentence, made in jest with no malice inferred what so ever kept nagging away at my inner self. This sentence came from a warm heart, a place of love and respect. And it’s because of this one lone sentence for which I have done nothing about that I feel I must honor its intent and finally respond.

The sentence you ask?

Our chaplain; “Don’t worry about Betty, if something is bothering him he will just write about it and we will read it the next day”

Simple, precise and so true. It is my way, my coping mechanism and beyond those who know me personally and those who follow my blog, a statement of fact. I have so many stories written, never to see the light of day. Locked away on my personal drive for only my eyes to re-read, re-live and suffer through quietly.

So with that being said; this one is for you Jim Wilson. Thank you for always being there for not only our department but our neighboring fire department as well. It is people such as you and your partners that make letting go of the evil demons we hold inside, the ones pulling back our tears, screaming in our heads to keep swallowing the pain just a little easier to handle.

I never realized how badly our job had begun to affect me. I become fairly used to the road signs around town and yes they were beginning to wear me down but it wasn’t until I realized I was terrified of my children going out to play, or my sons learning to drive that I knew I may have a problem. It wasn’t until I began having nightmares, losing sleep, or superimposing my children’s faces on those faces of death swirling around my head that I knew I may have a problem.It wasn’t until I noticed I had a migraine every day for two years and my body hurt all the time that I may have a problem. It wasn’t until I realized I was drinking every single night and even though my wife pointed this fact out to me, I brushed it off as; it’s just beer, it’s hot, we all drink beer, lots of beer, that I began to see I may have a real problem. It wasn’t until I found myself crying at stupid movies, commercials or spacing out, reliving some tragedy in my life be it personal or from the job that I knew I might have a problem. The rain, a wind, a smell, a moment in time surfacing from the unknown can bring about not happiness but disturbing morbid thoughts; yeah thats when I knew I may have a problem. It also wasn’t until my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia and the normally stoic, stiff upper lipped man I had become cried like a baby, uncontrollably, without any knowledge of the severity or options available that I knew I may have a problem.

So I started writing.

And I started talking, to anyone who would listen. I began by reaching out to friends in the business, and a few of my close personal friends. We (the fire service) have spent so many years suppressing these emotions, telling our young firefighters through actions or lack  thereof and not words that it’s NOT ok to feel. We seemingly must be strong all the time for if we fall apart we may become less then what we are and what we are is not heroic, or super hero like, which is what many would have you believe. No what we are is human. Death hurts, losing people hurts, seeing the worst in humanity hurts. Yes we are lucky enough to have those moments that are filled with elation. For four years in a row myself and three others were lucky enough to win the save a life award. The moments are there! But the gruesomeness of what one human can do to another or the after effects of sheer tragedy will always outweigh the good, because you can’t just erase those memories.

I like to tell stories (duh?)

When you see me I am more than happy to tell stories about our job. There is good, and there is just the plain old funny ass, you would never believe it if you hadn’t have lived it stories that go with our job! What good is having a long career if there wasn’t some wonderful memories mixed with humor? But no matter where I go, and as much as I love to share our experiences with anyone who is genuinely interested, there is one question you should never ask any of us. Ever. It is not fair, we know you don’t know why it isn’t fair. But it is not fair to us or the demons we hide deep down inside. So please be understanding and hear me out.

Please don’t ever ask this one question.

WHAT WAS MY WORST CALL EVER?

It happens all the time. We get off work and go home, we take time to assimilate back to a normal existence. Maybe that evening we get dressed up and take our spouses, significant others, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends of friends out for an evening of fun. We have a few drinks, the laughs are rolling, jokes are being told around the table through the sounds of others laughing and having a good time. And then it happens. Usually asked by a newcomer to the group or outsider as one of your inner circle would never cross such dreaded lines.

HEY MAN WHATS THE WORST CALL YOU HAVE EVER BEEN ON?

Or

HEY BRO SERIOUSLY WHAT’S THE MOST GRUESOME THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN?

Followed by; C’mon tell me I can handle it!!

But here is the thing.

You can’t handle it, nor do I want you to handle it! I cannot even begin to tell you the worst things I have seen, or put into adequate words the most gruesome of images. They are forever trapped inside my head, seared into my brain and in what realm of reality do you even for a minute think you can handle what my hands have touched, the scenes my eyes have witnessed, the sounds that no matter the day or time inexplicably reverberate through my head like a sole hiker yelling across the Grand Canyon just to hear themselves over and over again. No these stories are not for you and pray, I mean get down on your knees and pray that you never, ever witness even a fraction of what I have witnessed in 21 years.

Oh I know, I have heard it all and it usually goes something like this; Hey man its cool I have seen the most gruesome movies of all, I watched SAW like ten times! Or my personal favorite; I have seen Faces of Death so it’s all right you can tell me. But see that’s where the problem really mucks it up, for it isn’t even whether or not you could handle hearing stories about the most gruesome thing I witnessed in my career, it’s about the fact that you want to know because in reality the way I see it, that one question you threw out with that little condescending smirk has in my eyes instantaneously become a dick measuring competition!

That’s right I said it’s a damn dick measuring competition! You don’t give a shit about what I have seen or the emotions that went along with that particular call! You don’t give two shits about the fact those calls haunt me and have changed my life forever, changed my family’s lives forever and changed the lives of those involved forever! You don’t give three shits’ about the nightmares, or night sweats, the fact I have held more dead and disfigured human beings in my career to date than any one person should ever need too!! And you know what? There are hundreds of thousands of firefighters out there in larger metropolitan areas and military personnel who have witnessed so many more than I! No what you give a shit about finding is your bravado, filling your ego by sitting there listening to some watered down version because I damn sure am not going to tell you the truth! You know why? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!

No sir this is all about you secretly fulfilling some need to walk away afterwards with shrugging eyebrows and rolling eyes like it was no big deal, followed with under the breath monotone grumblings like; shit that ain’t nothing, man what the hell, that didn’t sound bad at all or Heck I could do that stupid job, I don’t why they make a big deal about firefighters anyways!

Don’t think for one minute I don’t know! Don’t think for one minute I haven’t heard you as you walk away, or seen that smug ass look on your face which makes me want to grab you by the throat hoping you can visualize some of what you just heard simply by looking into my eyes, but in the end you can have that look, you can walk away thinking you can do our job better and someday hopefully you come to your senses finding the need to thank someone like me, or a police officer, highway patrol officer, game warden or every single person who has ever served in the military for ensuring every morning you get to wake up with a clear conscience. That right Mr. Dick never have you struggled through a sleepless night while subconsciously transferring all the absolutely disturbing things that can be done to a human onto the faces of your children! You may care for those around you and if you have kids may even be a great dad. But your kids don’t suffer from all of father’s freakish paranoia. Worrying endlessly every moment of the day, seeing nothing but disaster around every corner and not that Chicago Fire television bullshit either! Real disturbing, disgusting and disheartening disaster. Faces of those who haunt you.

You will never walk down a street and smell burning flesh not food as you pass by a BBQ joint, remembering the guy who intentionally wrecked his car into an overpass beam where it caught on fire and he burned to death. You’ve never had to pull a guy like that out with your crew, grimacing as he came apart one piece at a time like overdone chicken. Or cringe when you see the reflection of a burning fireplace in a window wondering if anyone is home because it looks like a room and contents fire just starting. You can drive through your town oblivious to a memory of a kid run over at one intersection or the family of four that died on the edge of a freeway off ramp! Cruising the very same freeway you don’t see the fuel truck that burned or the semi-truck that crossed four lanes killing two and permanently injuring several others. You most likely also don’t see the road sign that cut a car in half taking the life of the driver and you damn sure don’t pass over the spot in lane number two on a daily basis where I picked up a boy’s face, not his head, nor his skull because those were crushed and lying in the number three lane but his fucking face! Discarded like an old Halloween mask on the first of November!

But hey this is a cool game right? Questions are fun!!!

Never, please ever, ask any of us that one simple, self serving question.

Now in defense of these most dreaded of questions for which I am venting I will say this; I love my job, I have been privileged to participate in caring for the people of this special town. It has been my honor to hold a scared mothers hand, to speak gently to a dying grandfather, to hold and care for a woman beaten by the man who supposedly loves her most, to look into the eyes of a sick veteran and tell him not to worry it’s our turn to take care of him . My life has been blessed with assisting new life brought into this world, extricating people from cars that looked as though a bomb went off inside and then staying by a patient’s side until the ambulance takes them away. Working my way through a structure on fire while it gets hotter and hotter, not knowing for sure if we are going to be pulling someone out or finding the fire first then extinguishing it, because sometimes our job requires we do many things at once. My job has so many plusses that expose a person’s true love for another human being, any human being and even when that person is combative or dislikes us for whatever reason the very same love and compassion comes forth.

It all unfortunately comes at a cost. I have learned over time this career has taken away my ability to see life with a rainbows and unicorns attitude and that really sucks because I really like both RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS!!! The innocence of life long gone from our or my ability to cope.

To those who say; well you knew what you were getting into when you joined.

I say this; you are right, to an extent. Words are one thing, a preconceived notion is another but nothing can prepare you for the reality because no matter how prepared you think you are nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you for what you will actually see, touch, taste and hear. And we (the fire service) are just a small segment of those in public service suffering, struggling to make sense of it all. 

When I see an officer, I thank him, when I see a person in uniform no matter the military branch, I thank them. They are hurting, we are all hurting and we do so in silence. It is killing us. Quite literally and that is something to be so, so very ashamed of. We need to be better, not just for ourselves but for those who love us.

For years there was no one to talk too. If you sought help you are labeled weak, if you brood about it, the answer has always been; let’s have some drinks, you’ll feel better. Joking about it is standard fare and humor is a great thing, it really does help. But humor is a mask for the ugliness hidden beneath. At some point in time you must take the mask off. Are you ready for that? To be revealed?

Thanks to the recognition of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in not only our beloved military but our public servants as well, we have very skilled and wonderful people at our disposal, just waiting to help. These people are trained well but most of all they have been there, right where we are now. Unable to process, lacking the skill necessary to cope with both severe stressors and simple everyday life. We need to open the dialogue, to speak up and begin to heal our insides. For if our insides are dying our outsides are already gone.

From a simple sentence, came all of this, Thank you Jim.

If you know someone who needs help, please, say something, do something, they need you and just don’t know how to tell you, to share, to release their inner pain. We hold it all inside so you don’t have to see it. It is time to stop that trend. We can all share some of the burden through talking, love and understanding.

If you feel as though you have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) please reach out.

  1. Or Call: 911
  2. The National Suicide prevention line 1-800-273-8255
  3. Go to the nearest Emergency room
  4. Contact your local church
  5. Check with your employer for assistance

It is time we moved out of the shadows and into the light.