Down, But Not Out

CarolinaFireJournal - Mark Lamplugh
Mark Lamplugh
08/07/2015 -

Often times when we think of someone with a Mental Health issue, we think they’re done. The person will never be the same. We perceive that individual as a lost soul that nobody can help. In the firefighter world it’s even worse. We’re suppose to be tough as nails. We aren’t suppose to struggle with these issues. We all wear the profession like a badge of honor. “Hard Core Firefighter” “Devil Slayer” and the many other slogans we read on the shirts. We can handle anything but what happens when we can’t. Our brains are much more complex then just a steel nail or water for the fire. Mental health issues arrive in everyone and yes I’m going to say it “Even Firefighters!”


What can we do so we don’t fall down the trap and allow the mental health issues to consume us? Can these problems be managed and we still stay on the job? If we recognize the signs and take immediate action the answer is yes we can. Why wouldn’t we want to get what’s going on looked at right away.? The repeated trauma firefighters see on a daily basis is going to play a toll on anyone. The ones that make it through are the ones that get help for their issues right away so it doesn’t end up being their fate. Knowing the early warning signs is a great first step in getting help, whatever the problem may be. 

Warning Signs from

  • Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others.
  • An unusual drop in functioning, especially at school or work, such as quitting sports, failing in school, or difficulty performing familiar tasks.
  • Problems with concentration, memory, or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations.
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity; apathy.
  • A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.
  • Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or  “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult.
  • Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling.
  • Uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.
  • Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or deterioration in personal hygiene.
  • Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings or “mood swings.”

If you’re noticing one or more of these symptoms it may be time to reach out for help. Getting to the problem early will put you ahead of the game and back to a healthy recovery. A simple weekly session with a therapist will be much better than a stay at the psychiatric hospital or even worse the suicide that often times follows. Ignoring the symptoms of a mental health issue will only make it  worse. We pre plan for fires so why don’t we preplan for our mental health.

There are many resources available for departments these days. When I was coming up in the department there wasn’t much of anything. Now finally we’re starting to see that change. From help lines, trainings, blog, websites and the many other programs that are available to you and your department. Just searching the Internet for firefighter mental health will put a flood of information at your fingertips. Taking advantage of what’s available doesn’t make you any less of a firefighter then your partner sitting next to you. Utilize the resources and you’ll have a long and healthy career. Ignore the signs and symptoms and it’s only a matter of time before you lose your loved ones, career or even worse your life.

We can all make a difference if combating this problem. Make it a goal of yours to include one mental health article on your training board every month. Look out for your partner when you notice something is not right. Talk to your chief about bringing one of the many excellence mental health or behavioral health trainers in to do a class. We all have a job on the fire ground. Make mental health someone’s job at the department.


Mark Lamplugh Jr. is a fourth generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (PA) Fire Company. He is now the Sr. Vice President of Business Development with Station House Retreat. He is nationally recognized in Crisis Stress Intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Lamplugh has placed and referred hundreds of firefighters, police officers, EMS personal and civilians nationwide. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].
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