In a follow up to my article in a previous edition is a list of lessons learned looking from my perspective. I hope that my story was well received and beneficial. I strongly encourage anyone in need to reach out to the your department’s peer support team, Employee Assistance Program and/or friend.
Everyone has a breaking point, with this close call being mine, with other critical incidents prior to this accumulating. The key is pre-education, giving emergency responders the tools to recognize signs and resources to handle those signs prior to reaching a breaking point. Prior to this experience I had no training in responder mental health or were aware of any resources available, other than employee assistance programs.
Also, to all officers, you are responsible for your personnel, with this including mental health. Keep track of your folks and check in with them as needed.
I didn’t — and most are the same — have a true understanding of myself and the reactions I could have to a critical incident until I experienced it. It’s impossible to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, unless you have experienced it. Everyone is affected differently.
- Remember what isn’t a significant event to you may be to someone else.
- Alcohol used as a coping tool, only masks the issues and can intensively increase your distress.
One responder may respond positively to immediate discussions following a critical incident — such as a debriefing/defusing — some may not be ready to talk until sometime later. A person is not going to talk until they are ready. However, they need to know that others are there for them and the resources available.
Mayday training must be mandatory for all members of the fire service. I have extensive training in may day, self-survival and RIC, and have been teaching it across the state for many years. However, I never activated my PASS device, never thought too, even after all my training. This life saving procedure must be ingrained in your head. The noise from my hook against the door assisted the rescuers in locating me. You never know how you will react to a situation until you are in it.
Never assume. Assuming can get you in trouble. I made a couple of assumptions during the fire that proved false. Just remember, everyone in the fire service doesn’t have the same level of knowledge, training, experience and terminology.