I know there are many of you out there that may not agree with this position, but I feel this is something firefighters and more importantly fire chiefs need to hear. A little background on this article is needed. I was promoted to an officer role early in my career as a firefighter. The captain who later on became our fire chief handed me a red lieutenant’s helmet and boom, I was now sitting in that right front seat.
Now don’t get me wrong I wanted to be promoted, but boy I had no clue what to do. I was that dog chasing a car who really didn’t know what to do with it now that I had it. I felt comfortable as a firefighter and really wasn’t sure what was expected from me or what responsibilities I was in fact responsible for. I thought there was some sort of training or at least some type of guidance to help me be an officer, but there wasn’t.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in this kind of situation, but it can be scary to think about. YOU are responsible for the safety of your crew. YOU are responsible for the tactics of battling a structure fire. YOU are expected to train new firefighters. YOU are being looked up to as a leader in your department. It’s a lot to think about and a lot to process.
So, since I didn’t feel comfortable with my role what so ever, I figured I should study up on what I got myself into. I was googling like crazy trying to find any training or advice I could. I took the National Fire Academy Managing Company Tactics Operations and felt it had given me a good tactical foundation but felt there was more to be learned. I stumbled upon the Command Officer Boot Camp (COBC) in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Now this was a training I could get behind, at the time it was just starting and was only $125 for the three day class and was on the beach. It was a win win!
I go to this training and I am blown away with some of the information! The participation from the local fire departments and people from as far as Massachusetts and more. This was some of the greatest information I had received in my early career. I wrote an entire notebook worth of notes and the classes invigorated me. I was so happy to have taken the chance on the conference and gone.
One of the instructors was a Battalion Chief with the city of Atlanta and he told us in his class that Atlanta requires all their firefighters to attend at least one outside of the state training a year. Now they are obviously a big department and can afford sending people to outside of Georgia to go to training, but felt this was such an interesting policy to have. The more and more I thought about it, the more I thought this was such a great idea.
The US is such a large country and what works in Ohio may not work in Maine or Florida, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. So I’ve been taking trainings as I could in different parts of the country ever since. If you can afford it and make it work for you and your family. Do yourself a favor and invest in yourself and your career! It’s well worth the time, money, and effort, it makes you just that much more of a valuable firefighter to your department.
As always stay safe out there and remember, we are and always have been each other’s keeper. Let’s make sure we make it to retirement.
When presented with the question of what does Brotherhood (specifically in the fire service) mean to me, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it was to describe. I attempted to define it but found that also was difficult to do. A good analogy for me goes something like this; What is air? I can’t see it, but I can’t live without it. If I am under water, I can’t breathe it without SCUBA gear. If I’m in a fire, I need SCBA to breathe it. For something that is so vital to my existence, it really is very transparent. I have come to appreciate cold weather because at least then I can see my breath, if only for a moment. Brotherhood is like that. You can’t see it, but you can experience it, and in the fire service we definitely need it.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery said this about brotherhood, “One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” Globally we are all in a brotherhood. We all breathe the same air, we all see the same stars, and we are all warmed by the same sun. So we are in a brotherhood, a brotherhood of man, if you will. But what about the firefighter Brotherhood? I have researched the term and find that we are very good at having tattoo’s and t-shirts espousing “Our Brotherhood” and some very nice designs to go along, but we really aren’t very good at describing it. “I’ve got your back?” It has to mean more than that.
I did find this quote which comes closer to the meaning I was looking for. “You cannot see brotherhood; neither can you hear it nor taste it. But you can feel it a hundred times a day. It is the pat on the back when things look gloomy. It is the smile of encouragement when the way seems hard. It is the helping hand when the burden becomes unbearable.” Peter E. Terzick Regardless of what we say, we really do appreciate the pat on the back, especially if it comes from one our fellow firefighters. And sometimes it is just a smile or a nod. But we know it and feel it when we see it. And sometimes, because of a family death, a divorce, serious injury to a loved one, or any number of events that bring us down, yes sometimes we all need that helping hand. That’s the brotherhood I’m trying to describe. Our Brotherhood is like the air we breathe. We can’t see it, but we know when we’ve got the good stuff going on.
There were many times when I would go outside the firehouse, sit on the bench facing the street, and just have a big grin on my face. Maybe it was the great job we just got finished with, or a really good extrication, or a cardiac arrest we brought back. But just thinking of how we all worked together as one and performed so well, it was like a breath of fresh air that brought a smile to my face.
For sure there were bad times. The children who did not make it, the person we could not extricate fast enough to save, or the 21 year old female who overdosed and we just could not get a heartbeat. But we still all worked as one. We did our best.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, Charles Dickens. For my career, it was the best job I could have ever had. Even the worst day on the job was still a good day. But I didn’t do it alone. I had my Brothers at the firehouse, as I am sure all of you do.
That’s how we make it through. Because we care about each other. We help each other. We become concerned for each other. We spend time with each other.
That’s brotherhood for me. Like a family away from home, or better still a family at my second home. As a family, We are not separated by our differences but are united by our passion. It can’t really be defined, it can only be experienced.
We Lucky Few, We Band of Brothers, William Shakespeare
By the way – In my book, female and male firefighters are all my brothers!
Stay Safe – Remember, all of our Brothers go home.
So I have really never considered I have had PTSD, but some of the symptoms have been coming more evident as the years go by. I had started to notice I was a different person that what I can remember of myself before the start in public safety. I have always been a champion of mental health services, but have never really taken advantage of them myself. That all changed this week.
As my fiance and I go through pre-marriage counselling, I noticed our counselor had several books on EMDR. For those who aren’t familiar, EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. I had heard of it through a chance meeting of another firefighter in Upstate New York.
I met Scott Geiselhart, a firefighter from Minnesota, was the Keynote Speaker for the New York State Fire Chief’s Association Conference. He spoke to us about who and what we do. He explained his story and how EMDR changed his life. At the moment, I didn’t really think about it at the time.
So as my fiance and I were sitting in the counselor’s office, I asked him about his EMDR books. He went on to explain how EMDR works and the studies on the benefits. I then proceed to explain some of my symptoms I have noticed and my fiance have noticed. Our counsel thought it would be pretty beneficial to try the EMDR treatment.
So, this week I started my first EMDR treatment. It was quite an experience and I really was nervous on how this was going to work. So we started out talking about what I wanted to get out of our therapy. I said I’d like to become less stressed and anxious would be nice. We then start to talk about some of the calls and incidents that had left a lasting image in my mind. We finally start to narrow down what we would work on during this first session. One incident that had left a heavy burden on my mind was a suicide we had when a juvenile shot himself in the head with a large caliber rifle. I will spare you the details, since this article really isn’t about the war stories. I go on to explain how the incident made me feel about and how I felt about myself afterwards.
My counselor makes some notes and we take a break as he gets the EMDR light bar set up. So, the way this treatment works is you are placed in front of a light bar that goes back and forth while listening to an audio que. The goal is to just follow the light with your eyes and that movement helps bring the brain into a RIM sleep like cycle. During RIM sleep your brain is able to process and file memories, so this treatment help process previously unprocessed memories. Now I will say that this treatment doesn’t make the incident go away, but puts you in peace of what happened.
So my treatment starts, my counselor reads me a statement “I feel like I have no compassion for others and I am cold to others”. I head to rate the statement on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 was untrue and 10 was true. To be honest, as I started to bring up these memories, I really felt like that was 100% true. He marks down the score and he starts the light bar. I can remember thinking, “Is this going to work” and “Am I doing this right”?
As I continue my treatment, after a few minute my counselor asks me what I am feeling in a couple words. As I give him my responses, he writes them down. Then he asks the previous statement and want me to re-rate it. This go around, I feel better and rate it a 6-7. We continue on and as we continue a sense of clam comes across me. I feel more relaxed and at peace with the feeling I had with the incident.
The he asks a final time fro me to re-rate the previous statement, and to be truthfully honest I felt it wasn’t as true as I felt in the beginning of the session. I felt better about the whole incident. I did have other memories come up, but I really felt much better about how this incident went and there was a relief from what had been bothering me. I can’t say that this has cured all my PTSD symptoms, but it has definitely helped.
I can say this about PTSD, don’t think that you are alone in this. Just because you only have a few symptoms doesn’t mean you have to fight this alone. I encourage anyone who is having problems to seek help. It’s ok to not be ok. Reach out to someone especially if you feel like hurting yourself. We are all in this together and we are each other’s keepers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone close to you or anyone, even me. I hope that if you read this you found it interesting or helpful. I will continue to update as my treatment continues. Until then, take care of yourself and your fellow brothers/sisters. We don’t want to lose you or anyone else to suicide.
This week I was given the privilege of observing The Fire Asylum’s Masters of Mayhem training program. The Fire Asylum is the brain child of Marty Mayes, a retired veteran police officer and firefighter from Texas. I have known Marty for quite sometime and this training program has been building for many years before this moment in time. This was Marty’s second class being ran at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia. The students brought to this class did not know one another and were essentially six strangers.
The prison itself is a daunting structure and really foreshadows what each student is in for during the training. At the beginning of the day of training each student lines up at the front entrance of the prison. Each student is brought into the prison, just as the inmates were when this prison started. The Moundsville State Penitentiary had one of two revolving entrances in the world, and each student goes though this process when they start their day. The students are lead to the cells of the maximum security wing of the prison, the North Hall Block, where they are put into the very location that some of the most notorious prisoners of this penitentiary stayed.
The students are given the expectations of the program and given their uniform shirt for the 25 hour training they are about to endure. Yes, you read right. This training is 25 hours long. The students will train for 25 hours in a row with a few breaks thrown in, but we will get back to this part of the program soon. The students are led to a classroom where they are introduced to their instructors and go over the objectives of the training.
Students are lead back to the lock down recreation yard in the prison complex and introduced to the “Grinder”. The Grinder is where the students are going to spend a good part of their day. The Grinder is a make shift Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) confidence course designed to stress the students and bring them to a point of exhaustion. Students will go through the Grinder over and over again, until they have mastered the skills in the Grinder. This part of the training goes well into the night. The students are tired, but morale is good.
As someone who has never seen or experienced this type of training before, it was amazing to see how the students bonded with one another fairly quickly. These relative strangers had become a cohesive unit working together for a unified goal. It was very inspiring to see these students come to this point in their training.
The students were taken to the second floor of the prison and introduced to the “Snowcone”. The Snowcone is a three level SCBA confidence course, similar to the Grinder, but this is all enclosed and in almost complete darkness. The Snowcone only has one way in and one way out. This is where the students will be put to the test and will find enlightenment.
As I started to observe the students go one by one into the Snowcone, emotions started to bubble up from the students. Some of the students thrived in the Snowcone and some needed encouragement to complete the tasks. It was powerful each instructor of the program took the time necessary to encourage the students to discover their shortcomings and discover new skills sets to complete the tasks before them. It was powerful to see the interactions between the instructors and students. I personally have never seen this type of instruction given to students. If one had a particular problem within the Snowcone, the instructor would go right in with them to help guide them past what was holding them back.
I recall a particular incident where a student left the Snowcone complaining of chest pain. After a medical evaluation, one of the instructors sat down one on one with the student to help guide him to the root of the issue. The student was then allowed to return to the Snowcone, but this time the prop was surrounded by all the instructors. The instructors ensured that the student was able to successfully complete the drill without complications. This indeed happened and the student learned from his incident. The student grew and became more mentally resilient.
The second incident that I observed during the training was a student who found the limits of his body. The student had just exited the Snowcone and was visibly overwhelmed. The instructors brought him to the side and started to medically evaluate him. The student had reached a point of complete exhaustion and was sidelined for the time being until he could be rehabbed. Unfortunately, the student had reached his physical limit and wasn’t able to complete anymore drills, but once he started to feel better you could perceive it was bothered him to not be with the crew. It really showed how much this group had bonded with one another. Eventually he did return to observe his fellow students. It was a true inspiration to see his dedication to the group effort.
As the night progressed, each student learned more about themselves from each drill. They may not have been able to receive these enlightenments without this high-stress training. For me it was a humbling experience to observe this group of relative strangers grow and become a strong unit of brother firefighters. I was truly blown away with the skill, patience, and love the instructors had for this group of students and truly the fire service as a whole. Even though I didn’t participate in the training, I too couldn’t help to feel bonded with these students and instructors. I consider myself truly lucky to be able to observe this training and hope to take it myself at the next offering.
Before I finish this article, I wanted to highlight the most inspiring story of this experience. One of the students I met during this experience was Matt Wander. Matt is an Army Veteran and has worked in the fire service for several years. He was someone who latched on the The Fire Asylum’s mission from the first time he saw it.
In 2013, after serving our country and becoming a firefighter and paramedic, Matt had started to get sick. Matt was found to have a tumor in his abdominal region. In December of 2013, Matt started his chemotherapy treatment, but had to discontinue. Matt was given a medication alternative. In the beginning of 2014, Matt was hospitalized and given one to four weeks to live. After four weeks had passed, Matt was still alive and given another month to live. Matt surpassed that expectation as well and was given a few more months to live. Then, it seemed as if he was beating the odds. However, it was discovered Matt’s cancer had become inoperable and terminal.
Matt reached out to Marty and told him his story that he had always wanted to take the Masters of Mayhem class. Marty obviously found this story heart wrenching, and he felt the need to give Matt his wish. Marty was able to raise the funds to bring Matt and his caregiver girlfriend Emily to Moundsville.
Matt was allowed to participate in the training as he felt up to it. He was monitored the whole time by Marty and Emily, making sure he didn’t over commit himself. Obviously, watching Matt go through the Grinder and participate in other activities in the training was a true inspiration to not only myself, but also to the other students and the instructors.
Matt was able to give it his all during his time in The Fire Asylum, and it was truly amazing to meet him and see him operate on the training grounds. Matt is what firefighting is all about. Despite what is going on with him, he left it behind to accomplish the task at hand. Many can learn from Matt’s example, and it was truly a gift to be able to meet him. I hope Matt is able to defy the odds again and beats his cancer to live a long and healthy life. I am truly honored to call him a friend and brother.
As I conclude this article, I can’t talk more highly of this experience and hope that as you read this it ignites something with you. I cannot recommend this class more highly for any firefighter at any level of their career. If you wants to learn more about yourself or learn your limitations, this is the class for you. The Fire Asylum is a safe place where a firefighter can go to learn about themselves without fear of being chastised or belittled. As Marty says, The Fire Asylum is an asylum for a firefighter to discover him or herself. If you truly are interested in becoming a better firefighter, then you need to enroll in this class. You won’t regret it! I have included links to The Fire Asylum website and Facebook page. Dip your toe into the asylum and see if you can’t find what you are seeking. It’s worth the time and consideration.
Picture above: Gray Williams-CSFD Chaplain, Brian Benedict, Nathan Raulie Station 14, Brad Starling Training, Austin Pugh Station 4 Honor Guard, Mike Bennett Denver Sheriff Dept, Matt Seube Station 11
Within a few minutes of meeting these firefighters from Colorado Springs their hospitality made us feel comfortable and at ease. Colorado Springs is a beautiful location and we met many amazing veterans and new recruits during our time there. Each professional and many from cities around the country to be part of this wonderful organization. As I left I couldn’t help thinking about the word Team.
What does it take to work as a team?
No matter whether you’re a police officer or firefighter it’s vital to understand teamwork. Inside each station, shift or crew I find that teamwork relies on a few things to make the team strong.
“You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody” Les Giblin
I want to thank Colorado Springs Fire Department for a very enjoyable event. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
We’ve been there time and time again, it’s the night after shift or a night off and the group makes plans to go out to the favorite bar for drinks and food. But you’ve been doing good with your diet and have been getting gains in the gym, and are finally seeing the results you’ve been waiting for. You’re focused on a new and healthy lifestyle. So what do you do?
Going out and enjoying the company of the firefighters you work with is a definite must-do for not only your own morale, mind and happiness, but also your teams. You do everything with these guys. They’re your family. And you can still enjoy the bar with them. The following is how you can do it;
Liquor instead of beer: We all enjoy drinking the cold 16 ounce glass of beer, but when on a diet, that is a large amount of unnecessary carbs. And let’s face it, as firefighters we don’t have just one beer. Liquor, on the other hand, is much less calorie dense and in many cases has virtually no carbs. For example, Jameson has around 70 calories per shot and ZERO carbs. A pint of Guinness has 167 calories and 18 grams of carbs. Which isn’t much if you only have one. But if you have two or three more, or maybe a Guinness and a few Bud’s, you’re up to more than 500 calories and more than 60 grams of carbs. When it comes to your night out, the drink choice will make the difference. And sipping on a double can be a much better choice.
Food: What is your normal go-to at the bar? The usual answer is wings. It could be a burger or maybe pizza. Bars don’t usually have a large amount of healthy food. Shocking, I know. Fortunately, many bars are now serving more healthy options because they have noticed an increasing number of customers like yourself wanting healthier options while still trying to enjoy the night out with their friends. These include anything from salads (with or without a meat) to wraps. Again, it is the small choice of food that will make a big difference in your night out with your shift.
With smart choices, you can easily save yourself hundreds of calories and still enjoy your nights out with your shift whenever the invitation comes down. You would never want one of your brothers to cancel a night out with you or your shift for a small reason that could be easily mitigated, so don’t do the same to them. Keep the tradition alive with your brothers. You being around during the good times is just as important as being around during the bad. Build the memories, and remember, a healthy and happy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
If you have questions or would like any help visit the Thin Line Fitness website