by Don Prince
As I talk to more and more first responders throughout the country, it is apparent that we aren’t doing enough to help our brothers and sisters deal with the stresses that we face both from critical incident responses and the PTSD that can result from them as well as dealing with everyday life which can add a ton of extra pressure on our lives.
We all deal with these issues differently, and not always in the most healthy ways. And it’s not just about the drinking or using other substances to alleviate the stress. It’s also about how we might start to isolate from our families and friends, lose interest in things that used to give us pleasure and purpose, like the firehouse or fishing or going to the beach. The list is endless. The point is, there are solutions, discrete solutions, to what messes with our heads and it’s OK to ask for help. It only gets worse with time. The most popular emails or messages I get from men and women from every corner of the county is, I thought it was just me and that I was alone, but now I see I am not the only one feeling this way. You are not alone. I wanted to share this story that was sent to me from a friend who reached out and asked for help and has changed his life.
I Wish You Could
I wish you could see the sadness of a business man as his livelihood goes up in flames or that family returning home, only to find their house and belongings damaged or destroyed.
I wish you could know what it is like to search a burning bedroom for trapped children, flames rolling above your head, your palms and knees burning as you crawl, the floor sagging under your weight as the kitchen beneath you burns.
I wish you could comprehend a wife’s horror at 3 AM as I check her husband of forty years for a pulse and find none. I start CPR anyway hoping against hope to bring him back, knowing intuitively it is too late. But wanting his wife and family to know everything possible was done.
I wish you could know the unique smell of burning insulation, the taste of soot filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of cracking flames and the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke.
I wish you could read my mind as I respond to a building fire, is this a false alarm or a working “breathing” fire? How is the building constructed? What hazards await me? Is anyone trapped? I wish you could be there when the EMS squad pronounces dead the beautiful little five-year old girl who did not make it out of the fire. She will never be able to say “I love you Mommy” again.
I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine, the driver with his foot pressed down hard on the gas pedal, my arm tugging again and again on the air horn as you fail to yield right of way at the intersection, however when you need us, your first comment on our arrival will be “it took you forever to get here!”
I wish you could read my thoughts as I help extricate a teenage girl from the mangled remains of her automobile. What if this was my sister, my girlfriend or a friend? What was her parent’s reaction, when they opened the door to find a police officer standing there with HAT IN HAND?
I wish you could know how it feels to come home and great my family, not having the heart to tell them that I nearly lost my life today. I wish you could feel my hurt as people verbally and sometimes physically abuse us or belittle us for what we do or as they express their attitudes of “It will never happen to me.”
I wish you could realize the physical, emotional & mental drain of missed meals, lost sleep & forgone social activities in addition to all of the tragedies my eyes have viewed. I wish you could know the brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or preserving someone’s property or being there in times of crisis, or creating order from total CHAOS.
I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy tug on your arm and ask “is my mommy okay?” Not even being able to look in his eyes without tears falling from your own & not knowing what to say. Or to hold back a long time friend who watches his buddy have CPR performed as they take him away in the ambulance, knowing that he was not wearing his seatbelt. (A sensation I have become too familiar with).
Until you have lived this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, what I am, what we are, or what our job means to us.
– Author Unknown
Help is available today to anybody who truly wants to start their lives over again, or can see a pattern forming and want to get help before things progress. The rewards of recovery from whatever it is that you struggle with is possible. Taking the first step isn’t as hard as you think, and the rewards are priceless.
About the Author: Don Prince is the former chief of the Brookhaven Fire Department having served and sixteen years with the department. He was a member of the Rescue Squad, a rescue diver, served as Station Lieutenant, First and Second Assistant Chief. Don was also a member of Shirley Community Ambulance. Since moving to South Florida, he now works with some of the leading addiction treatment facilities specializing in first responder treatment and also does outreach to help others get help with addiction throughout the country. You may reach Don on his cell at (561) 282-8685 anytime day or night.