Over six years ago Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) began tracking and validating the sad events of our brothers and sisters taking their lives. The data we collected shows no discrimination. Whether they were EMS, firefighter, age, rank, gender, volunteer, career, city, suburban or rural, it didn’t matter based on me personally speaking to over 1,000 fire or EMS chiefs.
Yet, one group FBHA truly strives to remember are not only the losses of good people but to remember the survivors of those losses and I am speaking about the family members.
When FBHA was founded in 2011 we had three objectives:
- Educational workshops
- Scholarship program for children of fire and EMS suicides
- A weekend retreat for family survivors called “Those Left Behind”
It is this issue I write about today. In 2015, FBHA held our first weekend retreat in Savannah, Georgia. My wife put the weekend together and believe me it was stressful for us due not only to the housing, educational sessions, dinners, entertainment but what would be the response from families coming from across the U.S. to meet for the first time to talk about their loved ones. In addition, I wanted to show them that we will never forget their loved ones. We hold on Friday night a “We Remember” event for the families. In a pre-arranged event, our families traveled to a Savannah firehouse and at 9:00 p.m. they pulled their rigs out and ran their lights for one minute while our families held candles. We had over 300 fire and EMS organizations across the U.S. who did the same thing. (You can see videos on our Facebook page.) We hope your organization will join us next year on May 18th, 2018 to remember our brothers and sisters.
The following years we held our retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The one item that is a recurring thought from each weekend comes from the families is they state “they can feel normal here.” This means they don’t have to explain to others why or how their loved one died because everyone has experienced the same tragedy. The friendships that have been formed are nothing short of miraculous. Many families feel a double loss because not only did they lose their loved one but they loss the friends and families from the firehouse. Many stated they were left behind once their loved one died.
So, my question and challenge is if you lose a member from suicide, LODD, a disease, accident or any other reason, what is your organization doing for those families? FBHA has a few recommendations:
- Send them a card on the anniversary of their death date
- Plant a tree at your firehouse to remember them
- Join FBHA on “We Remember” night and invite the family to hold a candle
- Set up a scholarship fund in the member’s name
- Invite the families to parties, picnics or any function your department holds
- Just stop by their house to say hello
There are many other ideas but I believe you get the meaning, which is please don’t forget the families. They are brave, strong, courageous, yet still vulnerable, especially at anniversary dates of death and the holidays.
FBHA has made so many friendships, no, have new family members, because they have showed us what true bravery is all about, which is an everlasting love of someone who they can’t see or hold. Please make an effort to ensure we do not forget them!
Jeff Dill travels the United States and Canada providing workshops to educate firefighters and EMS personnel about behavioral health awareness and suicide prevention. FBHA is the only known organization that collects and validates data on FF/EMT suicides across the United States. In addition, FBHA holds classes for counselors and chaplains to educate them about the fire/EMS culture. In 2011, Dill founded Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA). This organization is a 501(3)(C). www.ffbha.org.