It Changes Us

Firefighters and Paramedics often witness events that most people will never experience. Outside of typically abysmal failures by Hollywood to offer a look into our reality, there really is no way for others to experience it. Our experiences are a huge part of what makes us different from the general populous.

This print is by Paul Combs. Check out all of his work here: Combs does a great job of fitting a 1000 word article in one single image.

This print is by Paul Combs. Check out all of his work here: Combs does a great job of fitting a 1000 word article in one single image.

Some of us realized our dream of becoming firefighters early on in life, others found themselves joining the ranks for all sorts of reasons. Prior to us entering our roles as public servants, most of us were normal in most ways. Although some of us come from prior military service…and yet some of them come from combat military service. As I understand it, many combat veterans find Fire, EMS, or Police a rewarding way of getting back into life State-side.

No matter how we end up on the rig…one thing is for sure, we never know what hand we are dealt until we arrive on scene.

It is what we see, hear, smell, feel, and touch on calls that shape our thoughts and feelings. Those same thoughts and feelings that may have not changed in years. After horrific calls, we are left with these experiences, changing feelings, and new thoughts towards life, death and everything in between.

If you have worked in an area for any length of time, you can drive around and remember a wreck here or a fire there. You might not remember the details, but you will remember the house or the intersection or the building. The bad calls are no different. Those bad calls are probably remembered with more detail. Thoughts and memories of those bad calls can be triggered by many events and effect each of us differently.

It changes us….

In a mere couple of hours to a 24 hours shift, we can be changed….yet we may not even realize it. I believe some changes might take years of experiences, but some can be so acute they can change us immediately.

Think about that.

Sure, we get back to the firehouse…We might talk about it…We might say a prayer…We might even laugh about it to lighten the mood.

But it can linger.

For some it is different. I have seen it. I have seen some not think another moment about it, I have seen others dwell on it.

I have found that it is best to talk about it, or at least make every attempt to ensure that anyone who has anything to say gets to…but typically what I have found is that some decompress by talking about it and others decompress by listening to others talk about it back at the firehouse. The point here is that at YOUR firehouse, you need to cultivate a culture that enables each other to cope with these calls in a way that helps them.

And then we go home…

We go home to our families. Our significant others, our children, our parents, and others.

And they don’t have any clue what you saw, heard, felt, touched, smelled.

I don’t have the answer for you, but I have found that talking about it helps. Not your children, but your spouses/significant others. They deserve to know when you need some space. They deserve to know when you have had a bad shift. Share what you feel, your relationship should have already defined some sort of information sharing for the spouse who wants to know about your glamorous job saving lives every day.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t share all the details. My children are old enough that they ask about different calls. I love it when they ask about a fire or some other incident they saw on the news. Obviously, I don’t talk about bad calls with them.

My wife on the other hand is pretty good about being attentive to when I am telling a story about a call I ran. She used to ask about my day at work regularly…she doesn’t ask much anymore, but I still share some of the bad calls with her.

Here is why I share those calls…

She deserves to know what I am thinking. She deserves to know why I might be in a foul mood. I need her to know how I am doing with my thoughts and feelings. Who better to throw up the flag if problems arise?

All of us deal with experiences in different ways. Remember that when you get back to the firehouse after the next bad call. Take the time to make sure your crew is ok. Take the time to talk about it.

Don’t think for a minute that what you see, hear, touch, smell, and experience doesn’t change you.

– Rhett Fleitz
The Fire Critic

Mark VonAppen most eloquently articulated an experience of his in the article that I beg all of you to read “Daddy’s Girl”. In the story, Mark shares something many of us go through regularly on various levels.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you, or someone you know is suffering there is help: Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800) 273-TALK (8255) 

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

More information can be found on the Everyone Goes Home program of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Firefighter: Life Safety Initiative #13: Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support.

Safe Call Now

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