Why I started and how I feel now.
When I first got hired with my career department and with a local ambulance service for my side gig, I was ecstatic. 2 Years of classes, volunteering, and time spent away from my family had paid off and I was their, man. I’d gotten to where I wanted to be. Hell, my first day at the FD, I wore a shirt and tie, showed up an hour early with coffee and donuts, and I was ready to save the world.
Likewise, at my ambulance service, I was really proud. I was going to save lives. To this day, I am still proud of what I do. Extremely. What I didn’t realize was the stress, memories, and experience that was going to come with the job. Some calls I’ve been able to brush off but others, I’ve found myself in a cloud and thinking about for days.
And sometimes, I’ve wondered if my family will truly understand why I see things the way I do and why it stays with me. I can recall a few times I laughed while telling a story about a call while my family sat with a look of “what the hell! How could you laugh about that?!”
Like the time I worked a code while funeral music played on the TV from the movie, the guy had just been watching. And the rigor was starting to lift his arms and legs off the ground almost into Da Vinci’s perfect human form. It was crazy watching it all and seeing the softball sized hole left in the dude’s sternum from the Lucas working.
While on a trip to a destination wedding with my wife, we were laying on the beach with her friends and of course, someone always asks the, “what kind of crazy shit have you seen?!” I just laughed it off and said something along the lines of “nothing more than anyone else has. The normal booboos and wallet pains.”
But the truth is, we’ve all been there where questions like that send us back into the gray cloud only to start thinking about shit we don’t want to think about when we’re already two piña coladas deep and trying to be a normal dude on a beach. As a new member of this community with less than 2 years on the job, I’ve realized just how important maintaining good mental health is.
But how do we do it and reinforce our love for the job? This has been my conclusion thus far into that ever standing question…. “how”?
First and foremost, We are not normal. And we need to accept that as normal for US. We have the responsibility, honor, privilege, curse, and cross to bear of seeing others on their worst day and doing something about it. That is not a normal responsibility. And it’s a heavy one. But that’s what God intended us for. We weren’t made to be the silent majority.
We all have a past and a “dark side”. We need to be able to use that for the greatest service to others and to put ourselves into those shoes and be ok with it. Cops know their jobs inside and out because somewhere along the way, they’ve done something wrong or stupid and they’ve learned from it. Firefighters have felt the fear that our victims face and have learned to stare it in the face and fight it. EMS personnel have felt that “worst day ever” feeling somewhere along the way and now, it’s our responsibility to be there for those in that same moment.
We’ve been there and seen it, felt it, understand it. And we put that uniform on every day to go fight it. We lift each other up. If your a senior man or woman in your department, it is your responsibility to be the first one out the door or to be proactive with training. Probies look to you as a hero within a profession of heroes. We need to teach the younger generations like myself just what this brotherhood/sisterhood really is and how we perfect our craft while upholding our traditions and adapting to new ones. Perhaps a new tradition in this service is the support of one another with our mental health.
It all boils down to understanding and love for one another. Embrace the hard moments. My first trauma code, I stood in front of a house and prayed with the wife of a man who had just died in the back yard after an accident while he was dropping trees to make room for a play area for his kids. To this day I still get choked up about it. But I know that even that small moment, I was able to be there for this mans family. I didn’t know him, but someday when we meet, I hope to shake his hand and tell him that in that moment, I hope I was able to help his family in a way he would have wanted. In these moments, we need to embrace the hard moments as an opportunity to keep making a difference.
Lastly, we need to have a healthy release. For me, that is spending my days off with my family, shooting with friends, working out, or putting my legs in the water and listening to music. Whatever that release is for you, stay true to it and to yourself. It’s not an easy task but it’s ours. It’s what we were made for. And it’s a brotherhood/sisterhood. As a family, it’s our charge to be our brother’s keeper and to lift each other up. To clear out the gray cloud and let light in. Just as we are there for complete strangers, we’re there for each other in the same manner. And to remind each other on the tough days why we love this job….. our greatest calling of serving those we love and total strangers alike.
– Story written by a 28 year old FF/EMT in CT.