Hey Fire Family,
I wanted to talk today about a kind of taboo topic.
Have you ever had days where you said, I just can’t do this anymore? I can’t be a firefighter. Or maybe it was, I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to be a firefighter.
I can only emphasize as a firewife, because I haven’t said those words exactly, but I can promise you that I have been there for my husband as he questioned his career choice, in the greatest job ever, on tough days like that. (and sometimes I was the one, watching him suffer, that questioned whether the job was worth it).
Forget the long nights, crazy shift patterns and budget cuts. This isn’t about the sacrifices you make for the best job ever. This is about the stress that slowly sneaks up on you.
Sometimes, it was a bad calls, or a series a bad calls. Other times it was simply a flashback of remembering a call that you had gone to, heard about or read in one of the firefighter newsletters. It’s hard not to picture yourself there when your brothers and sisters are suffering. Because in your own way, you have lived it too. You have lived the calls of your firefighter family in more ways than one, both in person and in spirit.
You know what it feels like.
Some people call this PTSD, some others call it ‘just a bad day’. Sometimes people just say, ‘I hate my job’ or sometime they pretend like everything is ok and that the stress isn’t getting to them.
Whatever you call it, it happens, it’s real, and it doesn’t need to be downplayed. Because more often than not, Firefighters have days where they just feel that they just need a break.
That it is all simply too much. That they never want to experience a call or a flashback like that again.
So I wanted to talk about the times when Firefighters don’t make it to retirement. When they start out with good intentions, a rookie, a probie, a Jake… whatever you call it.
And they’re so excited to be a firefighter.
And then the bad calls happen, and the bad days, and the anxiety sets in that your going to get a call to your home address, or to extended family and friends, or that you’ll get a call while your at work that something bad has happened and you’re over an hour away. That’s real.
Thats not only real, but it happens to a lot of firefighters, especially as they put more time in on the job.
So what does a firefighters do when they have days like this?
Well the real question is not what do they do, its what do they want to do.
Because you have options.
***If you ever just feel like giving up- please call- 1-800-273-8255. You are so valuable! ***
The first option, and the biggest option that I wholeheartedly recommend is to talk to someone, because regardless of if you stay a firefighter, or you move on to another job that doesn’t bring up so many negative emotions- You need to discuss this with someone. There are honest conversations that you need to have.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen though. Especially if you are trying to shelter someone. I know that there have been times that my husband and I have tried to discuss some of his bad days and out of respect for me, he’s sheltered some of the information, which I appreciate. But. He’s still playing the hero. It doesn’t do him any good to keep everything bottled up.
Or maybe those that are closest to you aren’t supportive- which happens, especially if they don’t understand the kind of things you do on a daily basis. So I want to encourage you to find another trusted individual.
Maybe its your Lt, another shift mate or a firefighter at another station over. Maybe its your mom, your dad, or another person that you have zero relationship to, but that treats you like family. The point is to have an honest conversation.
After you’ve talked to somebody, once or a hundred times, and you still have these bad days. You have to make a decision. Is it better for your health, for your marriage, for your life if you look at a different position?
This could be a different position in the fire service, simply at another station, moving up to another position like inspector or instructor.
There’s a lot that you can do in the fire service that doesn’t require you to be a hands on person- and there’s no shame in that. I want you to realize if this is you we’re talking about, a coworker, a friend, your spouse.
What firefighters and first responders see, at some of these calls, there is literally no words for it. It is very difficult when we ask them questions about ‘what was their worst call’ or ‘worst day’, or just ‘tell me whats wrong’. You’re asking them to relive all of their decisions, all of their calls, every option that they’ve had- and that’s a lot on a person. Especially when it happens over and over.
Overwhelming doesn’t even cover it when someone is living with the anxiety of PTSD.
They don’t all get the 30 year retirement
You talk to some of these older firefighters that tend to be little rough around the edges. They aren’t called salty dogs because they’re just old.
They’re called salty dogs because they’ve seen it and they’ve lived it. And if they make it to that 30 year retirement, they actually earned it many years prior.
Not everyone becomes a salty dog though. Some of these firefighter retire at 2, 5 and 10 years. Some may only make it a few months in their current position, I know my husband wanted to quit the first few weeks because he felt like he could never be good enough. Could never be responsible enough to save someones life. (but he is enough and has done so much for the fire service!)
As someone with a background in Human resources, I can assure you that few people make it to that 30 year retirement in the same career, for a variety of reasons.
The main one I see in the fire service is that it is simply too much stress on the firefighter, their mental health, and their family. Even though Firefighters don’t divorce at any higher rates that the average American, the stress still plays a very real part on their marriage. Very similar to what you see in the military, and can be compounded by a veteran that joins the fire service.
It’s crazy to think about too, the amount of preventable LODD’s that happen each year where our brothers and sister don’t make it retirement, because they aren’t here with us anymore. Job related injury and death is a very real threat. While we don’t know ahead of time who will be involved in a LODD, we do know that all our Fire family is at risk in training and on the job.
Should you stay or should you go? It’s not about the money or the glory.
If you’ve decided to move on from your current position, I want you to know that it is the right decision.
This is, after all, just a job.
And I know that can be kind of hard to wrap your mind around, because you love the job. And you are committed to your job. But you don’t love all the parts, and certain parts of this job are actually hurting you as a person.
Sometimes it gets to be too much.
If you decided to stay at your job, I want to encourage you to look at your position, figure out what you can do to make it work for you.
Hopefully you can take some time off to recharge. Maybe, you need to put in FMLA and take some extended time off. Whatever you decide to do. I just want you to know that your life, and your mental health is more important that this job.
Whether you stay or go, You are still a firefighter- You still contributed to the fire service– and if this isn’t the place for you right now in your life, it’s ok. This doesn’t have to be the end. After all, this is just a job.
I challenge you to talk about the mental health needs surrounding our fire service personal and how we can help Firefighters be healthy, both physically and mentally.
For more information on mental health and resources for firefighters and their families, check out this post here for valuable resources.