Triumph Over Tragedy – Lessons Learned from Loss

by Maryanne Pope


When my husband, Constable John Petropoulos, died in the line of duty on September 29th, 2000 it felt as if my life had ended, too. And in a way, it did. Because the moment John’s heart was removed for organ transplant, our life together as a couple was over. I could kick and scream and cry all I wanted (and I did) but at the end of the day, I had two choices: 1) I could spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself or; 2) I could learn how to transform loss into positive change.

I chose the latter. And although the path has not been easy, I wouldn’t change a thing – because of all the powerful life lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps my Dad said it best when he told me, about a month after John died: “How you choose to proceed is what will determine whether John’s death was a tragedy or not.

This is the sixth in a series of ten articles.
Visit Maryanne’s page on this blog for additional articles
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From the Other Side

by Don Prince

Don Prince

Don Prince

We never think about the harm and hurt we are causing to others when our selfish thinking and actions take over our lives. I know this was true for me, and many other men and women that I talked to or have aided in getting help that they need and deserve.  Our wives and husbands, children and our extended families, our brothers and sisters down at the firehouse are all innocent bystanders of our behaviors in one way or another.    

I’ve written a few articles for publications both locally and nationally. Most have been about my personal experience with addiction and my journey to recovery and a new fulfilling and productive life. What I have not talked about up to now is what happens behind the scenes. During my active addiction, it was obvious to almost everybody who knew me that I had a problem. My denial allowed me to believe I was getting away with my drinking and behaviors because I was smarter than that.  After all, drinking vodka is safe because you can’t smell it on my breath. Really? What the hell was I thinking? Maybe the slurring of words, not remembering conversations from the night before, or not responding to calls anymore because of blackouts might have been signs everybody else saw that I chose not to.   

The rest of this story isn’t about me or anybody reading this that might be struggling, or knows somebody who is.  It’s about the wife, and a man she loved and lost due to his inability to see what was happening to him, and his refusal to accept it and get help. Continue reading

Firefighter Through and Through

by Lieutenant David Bass
Polk County (FL) Fire Rescue

Lieutenant David Bass

Lieutenant David Bass

To those of you that know me, and those of you who don’t.
Those of you that know me, and read this document, will know how hard this is for me to talk about. A firefighter through and through.

To those of you who don’t know me, I hope you understand.
To talk about my illness is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. To admit to a flaw is hard for me to comprehend. To admit I have an illness is not an easy task.

For that, I sometimes feel like a failure. For that, I sometimes feel weak. However, I ask that you not think of it as a failure or a weakness. I ask that you think of it as strength. A strength that took all I had in me to write this, and share it with you. Continue reading

I Hope You Understand

by Nathan Nixon

Nathan Nixon

Nathan Nixon

I hope you can understand someday, this hell I live every day; the fear, the pain, the hate, the wondering, the loneliness. I live every day scared and anxious wondering when this hell I live with is going to visit me, and make my day worse than it is already. Most days I feel alone in this fight. If I speak out about it, I am ridiculed or told to grow up or to get over it.

I hope you can understand what it is like to lay awake at night wondering why I am like this, wondering what I did so wrong in this world, wondering why others can’t understand what it is like to live this hell.

I hope you can understand what it is like to have the awkward looks, the fits of crying, the fits of rage, the fits of extreme fear, the flashbacks, the sounds that take you back to that moment in time, and the fits of extreme depression. I hope you can understand that I did not ask for this, I LIVE THIS! I live this hell every day; some days are better than others, and some days are downright hell for me. Continue reading

Fighting the Devil Within

by Don Prince

Don Prince

Don Prince

None of us ever wants to admit defeat. It is not in our nature.  What makes it even more difficult for people like us is what we do.  We are the ones going in, giving aid, support, sacrifices and sometimes even our lives in order to save others.  We are supposed to be the invincible ones and for the most part we are. But ultimately we are all human; we act and react differently to situations both in and out of the “job”.

Pressure, stress and pain are pretty much unavoidable in all forms: both physical and mental or a combination of any of them.   How each one of us deals with these stresses; such as self-medicating and isolating, is what separates us from our families, loved ones and careers. Continue reading

Time and Sacrifice

by Don Prince

Don Prince

Don Prince

Doing what we do is an amazingly rewarding sacrifice of our time, and the commitment that we make when we sign up to be a part of something that, over time, grows within us and becomes part of who we are.   Time spent helping strangers, time spent training and being a part of a family outside of your home.  Time away from your home and loved ones which, at times, can put a stress on those relationships.   Time away from your regular job (or second job) which, for some, can even put the pressure of a financial burden on us at times.  Add in to the equation the effects of PTSD, which is always a possibility lurking in the shadows of what we do.

We all handle these pressures differently. For most of us, it’s all in a day’s work and we can deal with it and move on to the next day with little or no impact on our regular routine.   There are, however, some stresses that affect different people in different ways and letting go of what is going on in our heads isn’t so easy.  It can build and build until we need an escape.  Something to help us let go, even if only for a few hours. And it works for a while. It did for me. Continue reading

The Fealgood Foundation

by John Feal
Founder and President
FealGood Foundation
Director of the Zadroga Bill (HR 847)

John Feal

John Feal

In slightly more than an hour eleven years ago, nearly three thousand lives were tragically cut far too short. More than three thousand families were instantly re-directed; mourning the loss of their loved ones while wondering how they would navigate their futures without them.

The reaches of September 11th went well past the East and Hudson Rivers. The same terribly historic hour also propelled our nation’s armed forces into battle in two separate countries, causing the loss of hundreds more of this country’s youth and future leaders. Today’s eighteen-year-old servicemen were merely seven-years-old when the fate of their service was determined.

During that same summer hour, thousands of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, correction officers and emergency personnel converged onto the World Trade Center site in order to save their fellow Americans, hoping their skills and training could save the life of even one person. Soon after, the Twin Towers collapsed. First Responders realized that they would not save their peers, but that their skills would be needed in an entirely different mission, recovery. They would be joined in this mission during the hours, days, weeks and months following the attacks by tens-of-thousands of their brothers and sisters in the construction trades, communication industry and volunteers. The goal of recovery was not limited to the recovery of the personal effects of those lost, but the recovery of this country from one of its darkest moments. Over the next year, the combined efforts of First Responders enabled families to find closure in the burials of their loved ones. They removed the debris from the World Trade Center Site and provided these services with an unmatched dignity, professionalism and heroism. Continue reading

One Step Away from the Edge

by Shannon Pennington
North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network

Post Traumatic Stress. If You Dont Have It. When You Get It.

Shannon FRI Chicagojpg

Shannon Pennington

Looking around the fire service, we are constantly told that firefighting is a stressful job. Really? I had not noticed that. Who told you that?

Firefighting, including medical, heavy rescue, hazmat and the list goes on, is really one of being a Target rich workplace where we are exposed to trauma on a regular routine basis as a part of our job.

Most of us will, and do, have more than adequate ability to cope with the runs and the trauma.  So what happens when we get the one that sticks with you?

We have all been there in the work. You try to shake it off, and it doesnt go away.  As you go off shift, it sticks with you and into the next shift cycle or call out.  Some of those calls seem normal and, in fact, do normalize in your headspace. You are back to your sunny self, full of firefighter humor and wit. You know, the side you show to your buddies, your family and friends.  All is normal again, and on you go.  Continue reading


by Cindy Armstrong

Cindy armstrong_1

Cindy Armstrong

One day I went for an interview to become an EMS Dispatcher and then I was hired.
I was told that I wouldn’t make it a year, as I’d get stressed out and tired.
So excited getting the first few calls, I knew that I wanted to help people all the more.
Helping others is all I ever wanted to do, but little did I know what was in store.

With each call different from the next, they started to come in, one by one.
There were accidents, people with burns, stabbings, and a man with a gun.
There was difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal pain, and a fall to the floor,
The ambulances were sent and the paramedics would respond with a big “10-4″.

Continue reading

The First Attack

by Robert Cubby
Captain (retired), Jersey City Police

I cannot help but feel I’m on my way to seeing a repeat of my experience during the first World Trade Center attack. You see, I was unfortunate enough to be at the front row seat of history in both attacks. And watching events unfold as they are now, I recognize that much of my reaction may be simply a triggering of my PTSD from the first attack. But I still cannot ignore the facts as they are presenting themselves that an attack may be imminent once again, this time by ISIS.


But a recounting of the events as they happened that day may be in order. Maybe you can, then, be the judge. Am I imagining due to my triggers? Or should I be concerned? Should I warn people? Or will they just view me as “losing it” and imagining something that just isn’t there? It’s hard to try to ignore, to “un-know” what I know and what I’ve seen. Continue reading

Fallen Officer’s Items Returned to Widow After Decade in Police Property Room

by Maryanne Pope

When I was back in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta in May 2011, I met up with Darren, the police officer who was with my husband, John, the night he died in September 2000. Darren was the K-9 officer who went into the warehouse with John, also a police officer, to investigate a break and enter complaint.

When Darren first arrived at the warehouse, he’d found John and his partner, Lil, their Sergeant, Rick, and several other team mates waiting for him in the parking lot.

Darren got out of his vehicle, pointed straight at John and said, “You — let’s go!”

Darren chose John because he’d personally trained John in recruit class how to safely and effectively search buildings. Darren had to choose someone and John was it. So in they went.

This is the fifth in a series of ten articles.
Visit Maryanne’s page on this blog for additional articles
Continue reading

after I pulled the triggerAfter I Pulled the Trigger: A Journey from Suicide to Life Collection
by James L . Atkisson

On the evening of January 24, 1986, within an hour of stepping off a school bus, I found myself dying from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. I was 16 years old. I was alone in the woods and there was little hope of anyone finding me. I actually planned it that way.

Looking back, I recognize it was a journey that led me from life to suicide’s final resolute moment. I understand the second chance I got at life, starting with an equally resolute moment and an intervention from heaven. I knew life was a gift, and I wanted to live. I decided it would be better to die fighting for my life, instead of lying helplessly waiting for what seemed like the inevitable.

The book answers the most frequently asked question of me, “Why? Why did you shoot yourself?” It addresses how that decision impacted my life, the suicidal symptoms I presented in my life prior to the shooting, insight into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as my personal experience with a near-death experience.

The Thunder

Lt. Harry Fagel has written many poems about living and working in Las Vegas. In a profession not generally noted for “creativity,” Lt. Fagel proves that true artistry abounds at LVMPD. His performance is from the recent Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department charity awards gala, where numerous officers were honored for their brave life-saving and crime-fighting deeds.

The Bullet

by Jason Zangara
Former Police Officer, Badge #1673


A bullet so filled with speed
and truth.

But when it lies in its empty shell,
It becomes hollow.
As hollow as the target,
Shallow as the lake of fire.

So much power.
But left with empty brass…
Bullet, copper, brass
Metal, speed, power.


You are a burn that is an instant,
But that is forever…
And forever is NOT NOW AND NOT EVER…
I respect you, Bullet.

But you are NOT FOR ME…!

So be shallow and be empty,
For my Life is Full of Fulfillment,
So, my Bullet, I secure you for thy enemy.
I may be running blind, but not without Sight.

About the Author: Jason Zangara is a single father to an eight year old son, Bear. Jason served two years as a Corrections officer and eleven years as a Police officer. He is proud to have received two life saving medals, Excellent Police Duty medal, Meritorious Medal, Combat Cross, and is nominated for Governor Rick Scott’s Officer of Valor award. Jason was also awarded the Chief’s Coin of Bravery and Commitment.

Not Today, Brother, Not on My Watch

by Jason Zangara

Jason Zangara

Jason Zangara

Sunday 9-9-2012

I was sitting in my marked West Palm Beach police car, X-291, in the 3300 block of Village Boulevard. I was working on the new Telestaff system, getting familiar with this state of the art software. I had all my windows down on the car, a very calming and strong breeze came through. As the wind struck me, I closed my eyes and took in the comforting breeze. At that point, I was calm and felt at peace.

I heard, directly behind me, a sound like a freight train slamming the brakes and the sound of iron hitting iron. With sounds of screaming horror. I exited the cruiser and started toward the chaos. Officer Rebholz was screaming into the radio, “10-18. 18. 18. Officer down, medics 10-18”!!!!!!!! I passed him in my cruiser as he was yelling at traffic. I drove past him and noticed a white pickup truck had a motorbike pinned to the guardrail. I exited my car, went to the trunk and deployed two trauma kit bags and an ambo bag. I got all bags operational and ready to go.

There were two officers on scene talking to Officer Bruce St. Lureant. Bruce was lying with his back facing northbound, his lower torso west, and his head was facing south on I-95, under the wreckage and alone! I told the other officer where the trauma bags were and that they were ready to go. Continue reading

Where Does He Go Now?

by Robert Cubby

zangaraI watch now, helplessly, as my friend, Officer Jason Zangara, formerly of the West Palm Beach Police Department systematically loses everything near and dear to him. After he was terminated for failing to resume full duties as a police officer as the result of PTSD, he thought he was going to at least be awarded a disability pension. He was denied.

After the reports were reviewed from six separate doctors stating that Jason had chronic PTSD and was unable to continue as a police officer on full duty, the board decided, based on no discernible evidence medical or otherwise, that PTSD was “subjective and not creditable.” They denied benefits. Continue reading

“Battle Scarred”

by Nathan Nixon
Police Officer (Retired)

Nathan Nixon

Nathan Nixon

In the Law Enforcement profession, they teach you about helping others and doing what is right, to make a difference in society. These are all good attributes and ones that Law Enforcement Officers do every day, most of the time without thanks or praise. They do it because they love it, and it is considered a noble profession. But, what about the things they do not tell you: the long hours, miserable weather conditions, the horrific examples of the way humans treat other humans. How do you deal with these things?

Most will tell you that you need to compartmentalize and keep these sights and sounds buried deep inside you, not tell anyone about them. They will tell you that you need to find a way to deal with the stress of the job. No one ever really gives us any useful information; it is figure it out as you go.

What happens when your marriage falls apart because you had to work the weekends and holidays protecting others? You missed out on spending time with your family, and your spouse gets tired of not seeing you, and leaves you. What happens when you become a single parent because you are working crazy hours, and your kids begin to suffer? Worst yet, what happens when you begin to suffer because you do not sleep well, eat well, and are not working out like you used to? What happens when your agency tells you that these are personal issues, and they will not get involved unless it starts to affect your mental wellbeing? What happens when you want to reach out for help, but are scared you will be ridiculed by your peers, or sent to a fitness for duty exam? Continue reading