Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reaching Out When They Have Pulled Away

A close FFW friend of mine, literally moments ago, posted that her FF's department had to respond to a suicide.  Never easy calls, for anyone involved, but it is part of the job, right?  

But this time, it was no ordinary call.  It was a fellow FF.  


Thanks to Paul Combs for keeping this in FD's minds.
And it was suicide. 

A firefighter suicide.

And that sent shivers through my spine.

Suicide in the fire service is very real and very scary and very much un-discussed in some departments, they just don't talk about it. Others are starting to sort out where to go from here and there are some that are truly working to make sure their FFs are okay - physically, mentally and emotionally.  I am truly a lucky FFW to be part of that last group.  MFD is aware of the issues, after suffering losses far too close to home, and is actively addressing them.  We, the spouses and family back at home, have to realize that our firefighters see things that we can only imagine. 

If there is not a support network in place, at home and at the firehouse, they can be consumed by the things that go bump in the night.  My FF is part of the team that goes to these FFs and reminds them that they are not heroes with bullet proof suits - immune to the tragedy of their vocation, they are people.  They have hearts that break and are not immune to the atrocities that are sadly a part of the job.

My FF, your FF, the Cub on their shift...they are all going to see things and work through things that are going to get to them.  And we need to know what we are looking for because that WALL of "Look at Me, I'm a hero, I GOT this", comes down at home, but maybe not at the firehouse...right away.

Please, please, please - know what is in place to support your FF. ASK.  MAKE your FF tell you what his department has in place.  If he won't tell you because he is trying to protect you, call his boss or call another wife in your department.  Be that annoying spouse.  Know who you can call and what they can do to help you and your family when your FF is struggling.  Know the number for your EAP.  Find out if your department has any mental health training in place.  Talk to wives - in your department or on-line.  


Things to look for, IE Red Flags:  (FIREFIGHTERS - I'm speaking to you, too!)

Depression - "The PERSISTENT feeling of sadness and loss of interest." ~Mayo Clinic.  Depression can be caused by any number of things.  End of a relationship, suspension, injury/illness,  death of someone close, family history, meds, etc.  This is a sensitive issue in our house and I am very aware of when my FF is going to go down.  Sometimes before he is.  

Red flags for depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping - either too much or too little.
  • Lack of interest in enjoyable activities - used to ride his Harley and now, he won't go when the guys ask him to go for a ride or a rally.
  • A feeling of worthlessness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • An UNUSUAL amount of isolation at home, the firehouse, department events.  Some FFs are just introverts, so it is not unusual that they spend down time alone,  But usually they read or work on a project.  Now, instead they are sleeping - ALL THE TIME.
  • An UNUSUAL sense of sadness or erratic behavior.
PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The thing to realize about PTSD is that it may not show itself immediately after the trumatic event - it could be weeks or months or even years after the event.  And because of that delay, we may not connect the dots (they might not either for that matter).   Symptoms to look for:
  • Restlessness - your FF's mind is ALWAYS going, ALWAYS racing
  • Sleeplessness - do the nightmares keep your FF from taking the chance that will come?  If you don't sleep, the nightmares don't come.
  • Then inability to relax and just enjoy life.
  • Mental replays - either awake or in dreams - where your FF hears, sees, smells, feels or tastes the events of the that traumatic experience.
  • Totally shutting down of emotions.  If you feel NOTHING, there's no pain.  But, there is also no joy or pride or love felt either. 
FIND a COUNSELOR.  Be sure that he/she is experienced and specifically trained in the specific needs and issues that come with PTSD.  Sadly, last winter, Tosa PD saw the first hand worst case scenario with PTSD.  We need to make sure we are especially aware of the signs and symptoms.

So...how do we prevent this from taking over.  Far too frequently, those concerned with our health and safety, put theirs on hold.  Because it is a sign of weakness, or it couldn't happen to them or...

It is, however, a very real and very serious problem within our fire departments.  

Suicide: To kill oneself.  

On the very surface level, it contradicts EVERYTHING that the Fire Service has come to represent: Courage, Honor, Integrity.  

We don't have complete statistics on the rates of suicide in the FD. Up until recent times, you just didn't talk about it.  And some suicides just might not be ruled a suicide.  It is hard to tell. Captain Jeff Dill of Palatine Rural Fire Protection District in Inverness, Illinois, who holds a Master’s degree and is a Licensed Counselor, has done an amazing job of reaching out and digging through reports throughout the decades to begin to compile this data, found on his website

Here's what is known about suicide in general.  70% are white males.  More importantly, 90% of ALL suicide victims had one of the following conditions: depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia-psychotic delusions, bi-polar or anxiety disorders, or Mood disorders.  

And there are some of those red flags you can look for if you are concerned that your FF's depression or PTSD has totally consumed them, including:
  • appearing depressed or sad nearly all the times
  • a withdrawl from friends or family that is out of character for your FF
  • a sense of hopelessness/helplessness that seems to weigh on your firefighter's soul
  • acting impulsively - giving away possessions - like all of them or the prized possessions - or going on a huge once in a life time trip
  • feeling a sense of strong anger, on the verge of or crossing over into a sense of RAGE
  • threatening to hurt or kill themselves
Please remember that the firehouse might be the last place these behaviors surface.  Often times they are trying to hold on to what ever piece or normal that they can, and firefighting is just that - what is normal to them.  And they will fight to keep that.  If they are note "okay" they might lose that.

So, what is out there?  My goal is by summer to have a list of resources available on here for all 50 states.  Please feel free to email me if you can help with your local support system.  I would so appreciate it. 

In the mean time, here is what I have:

Nationally - United States:
  • www.firestrong.org - developed by Phoenix Fire department
  • Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Depression Screening Project - 1-800-520-6373
  • Safe Call now - 206-459-3020
  • United Health Care "Care 24" - This is open to all UHC members - 888-887-4114
  • IAFF Wellness Fitness Initiative
Locally - Milwaukee
I will post the link to my list as I get it together.  For now, here is a start.

Wives, listen to your gut.  You may have to share your FF with the FD, but you still know him as well if not better than anyone else.  If something seems off, go with that and let yourself be wrong, if you are.  Enlist other FFs.  Contact me if you feel overwhelmed with the national contacts and I WILL find something closer to home, if not in your home department.  Reach out to your Ladies Auxiliary, to the other wives in your house or on your shift, check out Wife Behind the Fire, there are women who live the same life that you do readily available, almost 24/7.  You will never be alone.

Firefighters, you know when some thing if off.  Reach out, to your peer support team, your captain, your wife, your crew, one of these crisis lines.  Reach out to SOMEONE.  It is better to swallow your pride and admit that something is wrong and that it is not okay, you don't HAVE to just rub a little dirt on it, than to have leave behind your wife, kids, parents, department...all asking, "What did I miss? Why didn't he SAY something?"  

You are truly never alone in this world.










Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...