As a First Responder, Sharing the Ugly Truth is Emotional First Aid

Next Time Will You Be Able To Be The Listener?

As a first responder, sharing the ugly truth is emotional first aidIn a July 2016 article for FireRescue 1 News, Michael Morse wrote, “We know what we see is real. We know how it feels. We live with the memories and know that more will come.”

Doing and experiencing the job of a first responder creates an environment that fosters stress, PTSD, negative family issues, and at it’s worst, suicide. Couple that with internal department politics and the fact that your every move is documented by and displayed on social media it is amazing that anyone comes out of the job mentally in one piece, if any do.

All first responders share a camaraderie, especially firefighters. A camaraderie that is welded by the experiences shared by the people who participate. No geographic boundaries, no time frames, you just are one and as such you have lived the life and you know the feelings shared by anyone who has. Whether combat veterans, firefighter/EMT/Paramedic, police or ER staff the best antidote for the bad stuff that haunts you is to share and know that there are things haunting others who have walked the path.

No value in taking a tough guy/gal attitude and not talk about your feelings when a particular call is upsetting. It might not have been upsetting for the others but it may have triggered something in you and just by listening they will provide the emotional first aid you crave. The next time, it may be your turn to be the listener.

For those of you who are reading this and are not a firefighter, police officer, EMT/Paramedic or ER staff member put yourself in this scenario. It is 3 am and you are sleeping in quarters or sitting quietly filling out paperwork. A not so pleasant tone suddenly comes into your space. There has been a terrible accident on the highway. Your heart rate jumps from zero to sixty and your focus goes from whatever you were doing to knowing something bad has happened and a stranger’s welfare is now in your hands. You arrive on scene and one of the vehicles is on fire, the driver is trapped, screaming for help. Stressed to the max yet?

Or, how about this? You and one other firefighter are a two-person crew responding to a house fire in which a senior is still inside. Department policy says that no rescues will be attempted with less than three firefighters on scene.  You go in and you will be disciplined, maybe even fired. You stand by, waiting for a backup crew to arrive and every cell phone camera in the neighborhood is trained on you wondering why you are not doing what your instincts and training tell you to do.

It is not the easy life being in the first responder family. All experience sadness, unpleasant scenes, emotional strains and the memories. Ah yes, the haunting memories. No wonder a toll is taken over time.

Pete Adams
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