by Don Prince, IMAC, NCACIP
There will come a day when your son or daughter will find that photo of you that we all have had taken when we joined or made Class “A” status or got promoted. You know the one where you look somewhat awkward with your hat tipped to far back and you weren’t sure if you were supposed to smile or not. Yeah, that one. It’s been a few years since anybody has looked at that picture. It got put away and buried deep in a closet in a box with some of the other stuff that you use to have on the mantle or hanging on the wall in the den. Maybe a few awards, old helmet, group shot of you and the crew.
Your child was younger back then, and never saw that stuff displayed. He or she is older now. Today, he finds that box, takes out the picture and looks at it intently. He takes a look at you. Then back to the picture of you in your class “A”. With a puzzled look, he turns to you and asks, “Daddy? When you used to be a fireman were you brave? And Daddy, how come you’re not a fireman anymore?” What will your answer be?
Will you be honest and look into your child’s eyes and answer with the truth and have the strength to say…
“Yes, my child, when I was a fireman I was very brave. I was brave enough to take the front door of a house out with a raging fire within, crawl my way into a bedroom and grab a baby boy from flames and place him into his mother’s arms. But, I was too afraid to ask for help.
Yes, my child, when I was a fireman I was very brave. I was brave enough to climb into the backseat of a car to hold the hand of a woman while they ripped the metal away from her legs so that she could walk again. But, I was too afraid to ask for help.
Yes, my child, I was very brave. I was brave enough to climb the side of a mountain surrounded by fire with nothing more than a shovel and a foil tent to save me. But, I was too afraid to ask for help.
Yes, my child, I was very brave. I was brave enough to open up the airway of a man by putting a tube down his throat after he was shot and could not breathe. But, I was too afraid to ask for help.
Yes, my child, I was very brave. I was brave enough to attend the funerals of all the guys who passed while I was on the job. Some of them from old age in retirement. Some who were still young and had families and were my friends, but lost their battle with the devil whether it be by fire or despair. Those were the hardest to bear. But, I was too afraid to ask for help”.
So, yes, I was brave. I was very brave. And I was proud. I was very proud. But not all of the babies made it out of the fire. Not all of the women walked again or even made it out of the car. Not all of the people who got shot were able to breathe again. Not all of my brothers and sisters from the mountain made it home to their families ever again. Not all of the people I loved as much as I do you made it home again. And that made me afraid.
It was my pride that made me afraid to ask for help. It was my pain that made me afraid to ask for help. It was my ego that made me afraid to ask for help. In my heart, I knew that I needed the help.
But damn, I was too afraid to ask for help.
It is because of all that fear that I am not a fireman anymore. It is because I drank to forget that I am not a fireman anymore. It is because I isolated myself away from everybody and withdrew that I am not a fireman anymore. It is because I often thought that my only escape was to end my life and that would fix it all that I am not a fireman anymore.
I wanted to make you proud of me as you grew up, and see me as the hero that so many others see firefighters as. I’m sorry if I have let you down. If I had only looked at myself differently back then, and beat that fear like I did all the other battles I faced, things would have been different. I now know that what I thought was weakness was not, and I will never allow that weakness to control my life again.
I miss being a fireman very much and will for the rest of my life. But, I will always be your daddy and I love you with all my heart. And for now, that is all that matters to me.
About the Author: Don Prince had a sixteen-year career with the Brookhaven Fire Department in New York. He managed a two-station department with 80 members and fifteen apparatus. He is a former New York State certified EMT, a former member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36 and is proud to have served as a first responder during the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.
Don is a person in recovery from long-term alcohol addiction. He celebrates his sobriety by assisting others in getting help for their addiction. Don is a Nationally Certified Recovery Coach and an Advanced Clinical Intervention Professional. More recently, Don has joined the staff of Warrior’s Heart as a Crisis Intervention Specialist/Admissions Consultant. You may contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561) 282-8685 anytime day or night. Warrior’s Heart is a treatment facility for chemical dependency and PTSD serving Military, Police and First Responders located in San Antonio, Texas.