The Bridge to the Broken Heart

Firefighters function together despite differences, beliefs, or personal preferences. We are able to put aside our differences and function as one towards a common goal of serving our fellow man. Take a team of firefighters who have never met and place them on an apparatus and it is amazing how quickly they can come together as a team.

Yet, in the midst of personal conflict or troubles we seem ‘statistically’ incapable of helping ourselves. This is not to say that firefighters do not help each other. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Examples of brotherhood are found everywhere in this great profession. This article is written out of one individual’s passion to help stop a disturbing trend in the fire service.

We are brought together in ‘brotherhood’ to serve our fellow man but another unique element unites us all: Brokenness.

Firefighters have a servant heart and truly want to make a difference in the world. In this pursuit of service, we can become damaged by the painful moments that we face. One who comes too close to pain and tragedy on a regular basis rarely walks away without a wound to their soul.

We want to help yet we all need help sometimes. Our hardships and trials can produce undesirable effects in our lives, our families, and to our health.

What then can we do about this growing problem?

Seek comfort by sharing you burdens:

2Corinthians 1:3 What a wonderful God we have—he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials.
And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us.

Every firefighter knows the burden of ‘that one call’ that is forever etched into their mind. Whether or not you believe in God, this article is to inform, inspire, and encourage others that there is hope. And unlike some motivational writings, the problem will not be simply defined but the reader will be given a few practical steps to help prevent the following statistics from increasing.

The following statistics are consistent and well known:

Each year, around 100 firefighters die and around 50 percent of those deaths are cardiac related. Each year, 70-80,000 are injured.

The following statistics are not well known:

Each year firefighters are at a statistically higher risk of the following:
Suicide, PTSD, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and divorce.
The fire service has been working diligently to save lives and improve firefighter safety.

Why is it that the behavioral health programs are not given the same priority as life safety?

The NFFF met ten years ago and developed 16 life safety initiatives to improve firefighter health as safety.

Life Safety Initiative 13 addresses Behavioral Health Management in a proactive manner. It addresses firefighter behavioral health from a comprehensive approach and not as a reaction to their behavior.

How many departments are currently addressing Firefighter Behavioral Health outside of the normal EAP and CISM programs?

How many are addressing the underlying issues that we all face?

“We are killing firefighters long before they ever get on a fire truck” Rick Lasky

This article is for all those who hurt, all of those who have had failed marriages, lost their jobs due to substance abuse or alcoholism, and for all those who suffer silently in the dark moments of their soul. And sadly, for those who have lost friends to suicide.

What can we do as “The Brotherhood” to take a proactive step towards preventing this trend from continuing? Here are four simple steps to helping combat the problem:

1) Education:
Realize that the greatest opportunity to save someone’s life may be standing right next to you. Our problem is widespread and we need to be more educated about how to “rescue our own.”

These statistics paint a picture that should cause us all to wake up.
In a fire station of 10 people the likelihood of one member will:

Suffer a divorce (70%)
Suffering from PTSD: (16-24%)
Suffering from anxiety and or depression: (up to 55%)
Suffering from alcoholism (25%) or substance abuse:
What then can we do to combat this problem?

A) Learn the warning signs: Each member of the fire service should receive training on performing a firefighter size-up. As you have learned to continuously monitor conditions on the fire ground so you can apply the appropriate tactic so must you learn to watch over your brother or sister. Look for Physical, Emotional, Behavioral, and Job related changes.

B) Preventative Maintenance: in order to better serve on another it has been proven that we handle stress better if we have a support group. This can be a peer support group, life group, etc. but WE all need one. It is imperative to be surrounded by those who can provide comfort, counsel, and watch over each other throughout our careers.

C) Know your 911: As firefighters, we teach children fire safety, fire prevention, and to call 911 in case of emergency. But, if you were faced with a co-worker who was in a desperate situation that could compromise their life, health, family, and or job would you know who to call?

As well trained responders, it is interesting to note that we are more capable of helping our citizens than ourselves.

There are numerous resources, counseling services and services offered to first responders in need. The key is to helping someone is having this information readily available when you encounter a situation.

Each firefighter should know the resources that are available to them through their local department. If your department does not offer any resources please message the team and we will locate and put you in touch with resource in your area.

Don’t let your life or your brother’s burn down around you! Step up and be there for them. It will be hard, it will be painful, and it will require sacrifice but that’s what the calling of a firefighter is all about.

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