Although Tim Casey and I had never met in person, we had a long-standing friendship through emails and phone calls. Several years ago I received his first email. He had attached an article he wrote about his struggles as a firefighter; the nightmares, his addiction to alcohol and his suicide attempt. He wanted to share his story if only to touch one firefighter, officer or another first responder who was struggling with these same demons. He felt it was his duty as someone in recovery to tell him or her, “help is available.”
Go rest high on that mountainSon, your work on earth is doneGo to heaven a shoutin’Love for the Father and Son— “Go Rest On the Mountain” lyrics by Vince Gill
Thank you, Tim, for your friendship and your efforts to help your brothers and sisters. May you find peace, at last, on that “mountain.”
Tim took his life during the summer of 2015.
I am furthering Tim’s commitment to helping others by sharing excerpts from his article along with my thoughts and resources for YOU, the first responder who questions if life is worth living. You may be looking for someone, anyone, who will help you because you realize you cannot do it alone.
“Who takes care of us? Our families? They try. I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, and they can’t imagine what we do or see.
“As a firefighter/paramedic for more than 30 years, I can safely say I have pretty much seen it all. I have seen death in every incarnation and life as well. We on the front lines are not invited politely to join in the fray of life; no, we are thrust into chaos on a daily basis. It’s our job.”
— Excerpt from “Slow Death of a Firefighter” by Timothy O. Casey
The “job.” To those of us in emergency services or public safety, it is not just a job. Some may say it was a calling; they were destined — or put on this earth — to choose this profession. For some, it can be a generational career, following in the footsteps of family members. For others, like myself, it was a very unlikely choice, a path I never thought I would ever find myself traveling down. I’m sure each of you has your personal reasons for becoming a police officer, medic, firefighter, emergency dispatcher or a corrections officer. Most of us got caught up in studying hard to pass our licensing tests, being the best at the job, and basking in the good feelings and adrenalin rushes of a winning call.
The realities and demands of the job have set in. We soon realize that life outside of the classroom pales in comparison to the real world. The laughs we shared holding C-Spine for our fellow classmate while we knelt in the back of an imaginary car wreck or the pretend blood or the compound fracture we had to deal with in class is nothing like the real events in the field. Doing chest compressions on a dummy is training until it is someone in cardiac arrest and your adrenalin is pumping, and the sweat is in your eyes, and you pray you can save them. Every one of us still remembers our first “kiddie call.” My motto was to train and train and train as if my life, or that of another human being, depended on my skills.
“I was haunted by the calls where I was powerless, where all my training and knowledge were useless, where the patient still died in spite of my best effort. Those people visited me on my days off. They came to me in my sleep. Only the situation changed.”
— Excerpt from “Slow Death of a Firefighter.”
For many first responders things go well at the beginning of their career. They are the well-trained officer or firefighter who answers the call, tackles whatever is before him or her skillfully, and, even on a call that went less than what the outcome had been hoped for, returns to the patrol car or rig, completes the necessary paperwork and waits for the next dispatch.
Then the day comes when the call goes out, the tasks are completed. But for some reason, you realize that you are not as calm and comfortable as you usually are while restocking the rig or sitting in your patrol car. You’re replaying the call over and over again in your mind. Could you have done something different to produce a much better outcome?
You tell yourself that no one in their right mind would ever want to see the images that are seared in your mind. You berate yourself because you walked away from the mother on scene whose child had just died. You didn’t have the right words to comfort her. You weren’t equipped to handle her grief pain, her screams, or her questions of “why?” You had no class at the academy for that. You feel guilty and angry with yourself because you think you failed at your job.
“For me, I decided to treat my condition, my discomfort, with alcohol. The ease and comfort that came from a bottle was a welcome house guest. I could turn off the noise, shut out the visions and thoughts with at first a few beers and in the end gallons. I became accustomed to passing out instead of falling asleep. I became used to coming to, instead of waking up. For years that got me through it, and then it stopped working. Now what?” — Excerpt from “Slow Death of a Firefighter”
It has been months or years into your job. You find that you are unable to control the nightmares of children crying, the sound of glass crunching under your boots, the smell of blood and puke. The constant anxiety, the fear of being in a crowd, or your spouse’s relentless nagging that you “aren’t the same person I married.” Your children compete for your attention, but you don’t have the patience to give them what they need — your time. You have occasional bouts of anger and resentment towards those around you who seem to handle the same job with no after affects.
Without someone you trust to confide in about these feelings, the nightmares, or the resentment for the job, you find another avenue to cope with all the unpleasantness in your life. Maybe you chose copious amounts of alcohol or street drugs, gambling, hours of online video games or porn. Your sexual exploits during work hours are becoming commonplace. Your new catchphrase: “life sucks,” and “nobody gives a fu** about me.”
“I could seek treatment; Lord knows it was offered on a regular basis. Every time we had some particularly horrendous event the good old Stress Debriefing team came around to offer us help. My problem was this. I saw that most of my co-workers appeared unaffected, they were dealing with it, even joking about it. Was I some weakling? Why was I so disturbed on the inside when those around me remained intact? If I sought help and the others learned of it, would I be considered less than?”
— Excerpt from “Slow Death of a Firefighter”
I know that many of you are reading this and thinking to yourself THAT’S ME! That’s how I feel! I’m dealing with the same thoughts and feelings. I’m tired of the day-to-day calls and the blood and the guts and the nightmares. I’ve had enough fighting with my family, my department, my friends. What do I do NOW?
“If you hear anything here, know this, you are NOT ALONE in feeling the way you might be feeling. My story might sound specific to my career as a firefighter, but it isn’t.
“We all have experiences that can be overwhelming, insurmountable, and feel hopeless. So what the hell, give the people who can help you a chance, all you have to lose is everything.”
— Excerpt from “Slow Death of a Firefighter”
Step #1 Read Tim’s words again and again and believe them. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Step #2 Reach out to one of the resources below and ask for help.
Step #3 Please feel free to email me, Peggy Sweeney, if you have questions or need someone to listen. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sober Coach Don 561.282.8685 email Don@sobercoachdon.com
Don Prince ~ Nationally Certified Recovery Coach & Advanced Clinical Intervention Professional
Warriors Heart 844-448-2567
Warriors Heart is a dedicated treatment facility for chemical dependency and co-occurring psychological disorders for Military, LEO, and 1st Responders.
West Coast Post Trauma Retreat – (415) 721-9789 – educational treatment programs to promote recovery from stress and critical incidents experienced by first responders and their families.