Five years ago when Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) presented our first four workshops for the Philadelphia Fire Department, I never imagined the changes I would experience on this journey.
As the only organization in the United States that tracks and validates firefighter and EMS suicides, the road has been filled with obstacles, pitfalls, pain, sweat, tears and painful losses. Would I do it over again? Absolutely, without question. Why? There is no greater feeling than helping out a brother or sister who is struggling in their lives. To see them become the person they want to be is a feeling you can never put a price to. So the question you have to ask yourself is simple — are you willing to give a piece of your heart and soul to help others?
It is simply amazing to see the amount of organizations and individuals these past years that have developed workshops on Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), suicide prevention and behavioral health. In addition, the amount of firefighters or officers who have contacted us asking for help because their chief has asked them to “put together” a workshop for their department on suicide awareness can cause plenty of stress and anxiety for those members assigned this task. The point being, I am glad they want to get involved, but from what experience are they developing their platform? Have they interviewed hundreds of our brothers and sisters? What is their educational background? Have they fielded hundreds of calls from our brothers and sisters or hugged a crying soul because they are hurting?
I take notice of these issues because when departments want to “hire” an organization to come in and train their members the chiefs must realize the subject matter is difficult to teach. These are people’s lives and to bring in someone who does not have this experience might be detrimental to those attendees who may be hurting. Instructors and organizations who are developing workshops need to understand this key component as well. Believe me, I am not saying FBHA is the only organization that understands this, but I do know the pain of speaking to our brothers and sisters who have passed away due to completing suicide as they fell prey to depression, addictions, relationship issues, PTSD and to so many other issues they battled. If you want to be fully invested in teaching our brothers and sisters, then you need to get involved by joining Peer Support Teams, CISM Teams, study to become a chaplain or go back to school to become a counselor.
One only needs to talk to our brothers and sisters to try to understand their thoughts, pain, depression, tears, or even read some suicide letters to feel the depth of their pain. This is the price you must pay, which in reality, takes a piece of your heart and soul. Are you willing to do this? Well, before you answer let me tell you the returns are well worth the price. There is no greater feeling than receiving an email that simply says, “Thank you for saving my life. My wife thanks you. My children thank you.”
For that I would walk down this path every time.
2015: 101 Firefighter Suicides: 34 EMS
2016: 99 Firefighter Suicides: 33 EMS
2017: 8 Firefighter Suicides: 2 EMS