by Lieutenant David Bass
Polk County (FL) Fire Rescue
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.
The word failure or weakness in our industry is not an easy word to come by. You see, we are professionals, and engaged to the profession. We are firefighters, and we are paramedics. Failure is not an option.
I accept that, but I hope that this document helps one of you in your career or time of need. It is not a failure to admit to an illness. It’s not a weakness. It’s ok not to be perfect in every way. As firefighters and paramedics, we often think we are perfect, and untouchable. It wont happen to me. Bullshit it won’t! It will and it has.
As I write this, I feel like I have in some way, shape, or form let you down, let someone down. It’s difficult for me to type this without feeling ashamed. My doctors tell me that I will not be able to return to the fire department because of how bad and how long I waited to seek help. (That’s an entire article in its self).
You see…. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and severe Depression (I didn’t even feel depressed). It is real. It’s HELL! The worst part is that I hid it for the past 6 or 7 years. My doctors have been great, and are helping me through my issues. I feel that if can keep one of you from hurting yourself, or suffering from PTSD, then it’s worth sharing my story.
This is the first time I have written this down to be shared with anyone. I have kept this inside, and shared it with only my wife and a couple close friends whom I swore to secrecy.
PTSD and Depression isn’t something to take lightly in our profession. I look at it as being ground breaking and on the forefront. We are just starting to lay the foundation for future firefighters and paramedics coming up through the ranks.
I have been in the fire service for over 16 years, and have never had a class on PTSD. Hell, I didn’t even know what PTSD was. I see more and more articles on PTSD in the fire service, and if I know firefighters, (which I do), I know you all are scrolling right past them thinking, “That won’t happen to me, I’m too tough.” Bullshit! I was sitting in your shoes saying the same thing.
No one asks for PTSD, and no one ask for the things we see and do on the job. No one ask for cancer, and it happens on the job and off. It’s time to slow down, and read these articles. It’s time to make a change in our industry. It’s time to teach these old salty firefighters, and these new firefighters and paramedics, what PTSD is and how it KILLS us. We get it from helping others, and it doesn’t forgive us one bit.
It’s hell living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s real, it’s alive, and it is only going to get worse in our profession. It’s a fight no one should have to fight. It’s a fight that can be caught on the ground level through early detection, and debriefings.
It’s time for a change in fire service. It’s time to wake up, brothers and sisters. It’s time we have each other’s backs more now than ever. Suicide rates are on the rise in our industry, and we can’t loose anymore good firefighters.
Lets Roll, bros.
About the Author: David Bass has sixteen years in the fire service, as a career firefighter and paramedic with Polk County Fire Rescue in Florida. He has held the rank of Special Operations Lieutenant since 2006. Lieutenant Bass holds an associate degree in fire science, and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. He also has certifications in Fire Officer I and Fire Officer II as well as Instructor III, Live Fire Training Instructor, and HAZMAT Technician.