The Growing Problem That Many Know Little About

by Nick Stern
Junior Member
Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (Virginia)

September 11, 2001 will be a day that is never forgotten. As New York’s finest raced to the Twin Towers they had no idea how much this day would shape their lives and the lives of every American. As the days, months, and years passed, a problem unlike any seen before was starting to arise. Many of the men and women who risked their lives on 9/11 were developing PTSD. This was nothing new, PTSD in soldiers and firefighters has been a problem for many decades. But 9/11 changed so many things in this country including the way we respond to incidents of such large caliber and how we handle the aftermath and recovery. Following 9/11, fire departments across the country began to set up support groups and psychological departments; but were they enough?

As a young firefighter and EMT, I worry about the support that once was so strong, but is now fading. I am also a high school student and was given the opportunity to research and try to change something in the community; I choose to work with PTSD in firefighters.

When I started my research, I found so many great people who really care about the mental health of firefighters. But as I made my research public to my fellow students and community members I realized there was a problem; people didn’t know first responders suffer from PTSD. They have heard of soldiers who return home with the disorder but they didn’t know the people who protect their homes and families are prone to it as well.

Now I started to see the root of the problem. It wasn’t the lack of support within the fire department, it was the lack of knowledge within the community. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues are a major pillar when it comes to support and treatment for a disorder such as PTSD. If they understand what is wrong and how they can help, they will. But the problem is that they are not fully aware of this issue. Some people I spoke with didn’t even know what PTSD was in the first place. At first I struggled with finding a way in which I could inform people about PTSD in firefighters. Then, I found Peggy Sweeney (Grieving Behind the Badge) and it was perfect. I feel the more I spread the word, with the wonderful help of my new friend, the more help first responders will receive from their community. A little can go a long way in this world and when it comes to first responders, they help us so much, now we must help them.

About the Author: Nicholas Stern is a junior member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia. He is a high school student working on a project about PTSD in firefighters. The community and family atmosphere of the firehouse is one of the best and is why I do what I do.