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Scholarship Announcement

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On behalf of the Board of Directors and Founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, we have selected Kayla Hill, 19, of Philadelphia, PA to receive one of our five scholarships in memory of Firefighter Jack Slivinski Jr. Kayla is attending the Aria Health School of Nursing in Trevose, PA. The scholarship in the amount of $500.00, has been applied to her college tuition for the 2015-2016 school year.

Kayla is the daughter of Ann Hill and the late Timothy Glatthorn. Timothy was a firefighter for the Philadelphia Fire Department and was also an Army veteran. Kayla states she is following in her dad’s footsteps to help people.

FBHA and FF Slivinski’s family wish Kayla the best of luck and much success in the years to come as she pursues her dream of being a nurse.

To find out more about our scholarship program or to make a donation to support the program, please see the Scholarship Program Page on our website at www.ffbha.org.

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Rock and a Hard Place -Jagger/Richards, 1989

October 20, 2015 – “Beyond the Fire” Entry 1

Guest writer: Retired Fire Chief Matt Shobert

My name is Matt Shobert and I retired as Fire Chief from the Murrieta Fire Department (MFD) on December 30, 2014, after completing nearly 30 years in the Professional Fire Service with four departments across two states.  Further, I had served as Fire Chief for two other jurisdictions prior to joining the MFD team.  I have a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science.  I am also a 2007 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program, have been four times accredited as a Chief Fire Officer Designee (CFOD).

Additionally, I completed the arduous 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run – “140.6” Ironman Arizona in Tempe on 11/17/13.  My fitness level helped save my life on July 2, 2014.

I was nearly killed on the morning of July 2, 2014 and in the coming weeks and months, I will be discussing the troublesome aspects of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual recovery from my near fatal accident that lead to my premature exit from the fire service that was my life.  That PTSD stuff you hear and read about is real!

On the morning of July 2, 2014, an Engine Company from MFD and I were invited to an urban interface area in Murrieta, CA to observe a brush clearing operation, due to the tenuous fire conditions in Southern California this time of the year.  A simple spark could start a conflagration.

I arrived at the clearing operation prior to my Engine Company and a brush-clearing tractor was already clearing brush.  I exited my Fire Chief’s vehicle with my Garmin weather device to check temperature, wind speed and humidity.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but at around 09:00 AM, the rock pictured above was launched a distance greater than half a football field, by a Bobcat with a commercial mower attachment. The rock (about the size of a deck of cards) struck me on the left jaw, just below the bottom corner of my mouth, ripping off the lower left side of my face and mandible.

I awoke face down in the dirt, unaware of what the hell was happening.  The first thing I recall were my fingers and hands were numb and tingling.  Was I stroking out?  Was I having a heart attack?  Why in the hell was I laying face down in the dirt?

I tried to get up and couldn’t.  It was then that I noticed the profuse bleeding from the area of my face where my lower jaw used to be.  I quickly figured out that I was bleeding to death.  The Bobcat operator was nowhere in sight.  I was alone and dying.  I eventually made it to my feet and recalled a spare T-shirt in the back seat of my Tahoe.  I stuffed it into the bottom of my face and drove my chief’s vehicle a few hundred yards to a maintenance shop.  I held my face together with one hand and picked up my radio’s microphone with the other.  In a garbled voice, I told my dispatch center that I thought I’d been shot in the face and needed immediate medical care.

My firefighters and dispatchers saved my life with quick action and critical care, Inland Valley Medical Center further stabilized me, Mercy Air flew me to Loma Linda UMC, where a team of surgeons worked for five and a half additional hours saving my life.

My fitness level, OCD (sic), and intuitive training assisted in my survivability. The doctors said, “98% of the general population would have died in the dirt that day.”

I have been through four comprehensive surgeries over the past 16 months. I suffered a minor TBI and struggle with PTSD (again, that stuff is real)!  I have thought of suicide and struggle with my ongoing physical recovery, TBI and PTSD.

It is my hope and goal that sharing my story will help bring firefighter suicide, PTSD and stress issues to the forefront.  We always preach physical fitness, but mental health is a private and dirty secret.  Below on my retirement cake is my mantra that actually saved my life:

“Today’s physical, mental and emotional preparedness, determines tomorrow’s performance.  Train like your life depends on it – because it does!”                                                                                                    -Retired Fire Chief Matt Shobert

matt

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Why Firefighters Need Yoga

Guest writer: Shannon McQuaide

My name is Shannon McQuaide. I am a yoga and mediation teacher for firefighters. I came to perform this wonderful work about a year and half ago. At that time I piloted a yoga and meditation program for a small group of firefighters in San Jose. The pilot was designed to reduce injuries related to strains and sprains, and to reduce stress. The pilot program was so well received by firefighters and the data positively correlated in a reduction of both injuries and stress that I have since been hired to lead this program for the department.

As I continue to work with firefighters of all ages and abilities, the benefits of yoga and meditation are undeniable. I an effort to establish yoga and meditation classes as part of health and wellness programs for fire departments across the country, I have created FireFlex Yoga WellnessTM, www.fireflexyoga.com. FireFlex Yoga Wellness is designed to bring together a community of talented yoga teachers and organizations that understand the importance of offering body and mind training to firefighters.

Please check out www.fireflexyoga.com to hear testimonials from firefighters who have participated in FireFlex Yoga Wellness classes. You can also contact me and get on my mailing list to be a part of future trainings and events. Find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FireFlexYoga

For the women and men I train, yoga provides an unique opportunity to move their bodies into novel shapes while stretching and strengthening their shoulders, backs, hamstrings and hips. On it’s own, yoga postures help firefighters to develop the physical fitness necessary to respond to the extreme demands of their jobs. However yoga also delivers psychological benefits.  And it’s the impact yoga is having on firefighters’ ability to mentally and emotionally cope with their work that is gaining more recognition and interest from the fire service.

The mechanisms by which yoga is effective at providing psychological well-being are just beginning to be understood; however more and more research is reporting on the benefits of yoga and meditation, to reduce stress, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, depression and to release the accumulation of trauma from the body.

FireFlex Yoga Wellness teaches firefighters how to get in touch with their bodies and their minds resulting in a more centered, grounded, functional, reliable, easeful orientation to themselves, their workplace and their lives.

What firefighters experience through FireFlex Yoga Wellness:

A practical way to strengthen one’s physical body, increase functional fitness resulting in less injuries, increased flexibility, and greater on-the-job performance.

  1. Peace of mind.
  2. A framework for processing what happens at work so that personal lives are not affected in a negative way.
  3. Increased ability to focus and maintain awareness so that one can identify and respond with more efficiency, precision, and adaptability when seen or unforeseen circumstances arise.

It is my goal to provide firefighters with tools to enhance their jobs, their bodies, and their lives and to connect with other professionals and organizations that have a similar goal. If you are interested in bringing yoga, meditation and wellness to firefighters, please contact me. www.fireflexyoga.com or find me on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/FireFlexYoga

reverse namaste good

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Those Left Behind, Memories of a Lifetime

Written by: Jeff Dill, Founder

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) recently held their first annual retreat for family members left behind by firefighter and EMT suicides. The event was held in Savannah, GA from May 21-24, 2015. My wife Karen and I met eleven of the most courageous people who came from IL, OH, KY, NY, NJ and FL. There were mothers, fathers, sisters, sister-in-laws, brothers, daughters and son-in-laws, but they were much more than that. These were people still reeling from the shock and pain of losing a loved one that ranged from four months to five years ago. I am positive that each family member that attended was feeling apprehension as to what emotions would play out to strangers they had just met on Thursday night. Karen and I had the same feelings.

When FBHA was first founded in 2011, one of the three main goals was to create a weekend retreat to let people know that they are not alone. To assist us, we invited Sarah Gaer, a mental health expert from CT, and Lt. Jerry Meddock Jr., a firefighter and Chaplain from OH. Both Sara and Jerry are also suicide survivors.

We wanted more than just workshops for our group.  We wanted people to interact as well as enjoy the wonderful and historic city of Savannah. A trolley tour, riverboat cruise, restaurant dining and quality family time to go out and explore were also on the agenda. Yet nothing was more heart warming than what Karen and I observed from our Carriage House room that overlooked the courtyard on late Friday night. There were the families who just met 24 hours ago, talking and laughing with each other. They were strangers brought together by tragedy and now by there own choice, brought together to create friendships. It was one of the most rewarding feelings we ever have experienced in our lives.

On Friday night we held the first “WE REMEMBER” night at Savannah Fire House Station #3. For one minute the SFD ran their emergency lights as our families held candles to express, “we will always remember our lost loved one”.  In fact, we were joined by fire and EMS organizations all over North America who joined us by running their lights and holding candles.

Although tears flowed during our emotional sessions there was laughter as well, and bonding that we could ever describe in this article. When Sunday morning arrived, Karen and I found that we actually did very little in getting people together. They found a spirit deep within themselves to reach out to each other and create memories and relationships that will last a lifetime. As one member said during a courtyard chat, “it felt good to feel normal again”. Another found himself expressing that because of this weekend he felt “hope” again for his healing process.

It’s now Monday afternoon and we are back in Arizona readying for the week. Yet these families still face their emotions on a daily basis. We carry the belief that for one weekend, one very special weekend our new family,(yes not only friends but family members), can reflect back to a time when they felt laughter, felt hope, felt normal and will reach out to talk with each other when needed.

Final thought: Reflecting back on the title of this article, “memories of a lifetime,” we were referring to our own memory. Our newest family members have created memories that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. For that, we will be forever thankful.

God Bless and Stay Safe,

Jeff

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The Silent “Maydays”

Written by: Jeff Dill 5/9/15

Mayday! Mayday!  These are words that bring an instant emotion of fear to responders because it indicates one of our own is in serious trouble. Yet, for every mayday we hear on the fire scene, how many silent maydays are we missing on a daily basis from the lives our brothers and sisters due to behavioral health issues?

From the first day Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) was organized, to our first four workshops for the Philadelphia Fire Department in December of 2011, it has been an incredible journey to educate brothers and sisters on behavioral health and firefighter suicide awareness.  I have made numerous friends, heard hundreds of sad stories and hugged many family members who needed a shoulder to cry on.  Either way, I would not change a single minute because I have learned so much from those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, who were firefighters or emergency medical service members.

It is from their strength and experience that FBHA continues to travel across the United States, Canada to help prevent suicide, even if it is just one single firefighter/EMT from taking their life. To further our market outreach in May, we are hosting training in Phoenix, AZ and Savannah, GA. Eleven individuals from across the US will be Ambassadors and instructors for FBHA.

I would like to cover the Top 5 Warning Signs that found common ground from the hundreds of firefighters we have met these 4 years. In addition, this article will look at some steps to assist each other plus some resources available for fire departments to contact.

FBHA calls these the “Top 5” but don’t forget there are several other warning signs displayed that sometimes are missed, or perhaps as firefighters and officers just don’t know how to approach the subject matter.  With all the training we receive within our career from the academies to officer classes I believe it is safe to assume we can count on one hand the amount of training classes we’ve had on behavioral health.  The good news is that the fire service is turning the corner, and now realizes the value of behavioral health training for its members.

These are in no particular order but seem to appear in most conversations I have had with firefighters/EMS when discussing issues of depression or suicide.

  • Isolation– The fire service is a dynamic group.  The interactions of a company within a fire department while training, eating, responding to calls, or whatever career, paid on call or volunteers due together is a bond that only a handful of careers can replicate.  So in saying this shouldn’t it be easy to recognize if a member starts to slip away from the “group”.  Tradition was to give them some space because they are going through some financial problems, relationship issues or basically “it is a personal issue and if they want help they will ask”.  These are the times to rally around our own even when they don’t ask.  If they refuse any help then just reassure them to reach out when they are ready because the company is here for them.
  • Sleep Deprivation – We have all been there, you know, the call in the middle of the night and when you get back to quarters or home if you’re a POC/Volunteer and try to get back to sleep.  It becomes time consuming and difficult because the heart and mind are racing.  But what if you are getting those physical and psychological events occurring even when you are at home or don’t go on calls?  The cause unknown, but the stress and anxiety as the night approaches sets in realizing you will not sleep again tonight can be very damaging to the body and mind.  What about the FF/EMT who is sleeping way too much?  In bed most of the day, struggling to even to get up and shower, eat or being with your family?  Depression has a cruel way of destroying people’s lives.  If sleep is affecting you in either of these ways then it is time to seek help.
  • Impulsive – Starting to show signs of impulsiveness or recklessness? This is a negative sign in a change of behavior.  Yet, they can be so subtle that people around this person might not realize it as a cry for help.  Buying guns when they were always against firearms, riding motorcycles or driving cars recklessly or acting in a manner that could cause serious injury to one self are signs that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
  • Anger – In every workshop presented, when I mention anger there is always laughs because those in attendance know of someone on their department that anger applies to. Yet, the issue can be a very dangerous one, especially if an angry member displaces their anger and projects it to others, like family members at home.
  • Loss of Confidence – This one started to become a common theme from firefighters I spoke with.  It actually never occurred to me until I heard it over and over again.  Members who were struggling with issues in their life somehow transferred it to the job and then began to realize they weren’t performing at a level they were use to.  They became unsure of the simplest tasks, which increased their frustration, anxiety and increased their lack of confidence as competent firefighter.

In our “Saving Those Who Save Others” workshop we cover these more in depth as well as the following FBHA recommendations.  Our theory is to Challenge with Compassion when educating firefighters and officers on knowing warning signs, communicating with each other or offering resources to those effected. Here are some FBHA recommendations:

  • Be Proactive, Be Direct – Fire departments need to be proactive towards behavioral health training, and if you think FF suicides will happen to your department then give me a call because I can give you the names of hundreds of fire chiefs who have dealt or are dealing with this issue.  It happening from the big cities to the small rural towns.  Be direct with firefighters who are suffering.  Don’t dance around the issues.  These are real problems that need real conversations.
  • Direct Questions – If a member comes to you with thoughts of suicide then there are two questions you need to ask.
    1. Do you feel like killing yourself now?
    2. Do you have a plan?

These are quick questions to give you an assessment on what is going on with your FF.  A “yes” to any of these means you need to seek medical attention immediately.  Even if they had thoughts of suicide recently it should be grounds for offering immediate help. Do not leave this person alone.

  • Compassion – If someone comes to you to talk, then remember to show compassion.  Stay in the moment!  Listen actively.  Treat them like you would want them to treat you.
  • Discretionary Time – One of the most crucial pieces of advice to recommend is to not make a “knee-jerk” remark.  If you don’t know an answer or if you are caught off-guard by a personal issue that a member has come to you then use discretionary time.  A simple “I have never been approached about this type of issue, let me look into educating myself about it and lets meet later to discuss this further in-depth.”  This shows compassion, dedication and concern towards the member and the problem they are facing.
  • Walk the WalkSimply, if a brother or sister needs help then be there for them.  Attend AA meetings, drive them to counseling or just be an ear for them.

These are some quick looks at the items we discuss in our workshops.  The workshops include videos of fire chiefs who talk about suicides in their department and life, role-play, retirement and much more.  If you are interested in learning more about “Saving Those Who Save Others” then visit www.ffbha.org or contact us at info@ffbha.org.

Resources:

Here is a quick list of resources you can call if you are having problems in your life or if you know someone who is in need.

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance: www.ffbha.org            Call 847-209-8208

National Volunteer Fire Council: http://www.nvfc.org/hot-topics/share-the-load-support-program-for-fire-and-ems

American Addiction Centers: http://americanaddictioncenters.org/fire-services/ 24/7 Call 1.888.731.FIRE (3473) Assistance for firefighters/EMT’s

Rosecrance: Florian Program: http://www.rosecrance.org/substance-abuse/florian-firefighter-treatment-center/ 815-391-1000 or 888-928-5278 Firefighter & Paramedic Substance Abuse Treatment Program

National Suicide Hotline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org Call 800-273-TALK (8255)

Pocket Assessment Guides are available for a nominal donation. Please contact us at info@ffbha.org

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Darkest Hour

L. Mauser-Ferguson
03/26/15

The Cincinnati Fire Department lost a good man on the job this morning named Daryl Gordon. I did not know him, but have gotten calls and messages this morning from several brothers who did. By all accounts, he was a magnificent man who will be so severely missed. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Cincinnati FD and everyone who loved Daryl Gordon: Myself and everyone I know are sending you a huge combination of prayers, uplifting thoughts, and hugs.

Today was already a dark day, marking the anniversary of the deaths of Boston’s Lieutenant Ed Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy. I remember sitting at my kitchen table listening to the fireground channel last year during the search for both Walsh and Kennedy, yelling silently in my head for my Dad to save them. I found myself doing the same thing this morning listening to the tragic fire that took the life of Daryl Gordon. When my prayers to God and demands to my dead Dad weren’t answered, I realized there was more to worry about: everyone left behind.

I’ve been with lots of groups of people when someone in their life has died, but there is nothing like a first responder line of duty death. It is truly the darkest hour. You can see the minutes on the clock go by, but it feels as if time has stopped in the hours and days following that loss. I think everyone gets this knot in their stomach that makes them want to puke and scream and cry, but most hold it in. I used to think staying silent on the matter, and not asking how everyone is doing, helped preserve some kind of silent dignity that has for so long been seen as a guaranteed right in the fire service. We hide behind pressing Class As and draping the truck, using the rituals which were handed down to us to keep us busy. But then night comes. And I don’t know why, but the dark sure torments so many in the fire service already, and tragic loss like this, I am certain, will keep many of us awake tonight.

I can’t figure out if it’s because our bodies change from producing serotonin to melatonin or if first responders are born with some weird gene that makes us sit up and night and think, but whatever it is, it’s a constant theme I see play out whenever I’m talking to our brothers and sisters. My Dad sat awake, I sit awake, and I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve had deep conversations with someone else in the fire service, who also couldn’t sleep. You’d think that serving our communities and saving lives would clear our consciences so well that we’d drift right off to sleep when our head hit the pillow. Wrong.

…And that’s how far I got when a 7th alarm had been transmitted in NYC.

Maybe this is why we can’t sleep.

I’m sitting here writing now with the Broadcastify channel up, anxious, hearing voices of men I’ve never met, yet they are my brothers. You see, the anxiety lingers, like smoke around all the rest of the emotional weight we carry, constantly reminding us something bad might be just around the corner. And it doesn’t have to be in our own backyard or in our own department: when the shit is bad anywhere, we all take that on. We sit and listen to the fireground channels, gripping crucifixes and Saint medallions, looking out the window, emotionally bearing the brunt of what we’re hearing. I have no idea why we do it, other than out of solidarity. But when you look at a Broadcastify channel that’s got 9,000 listeners from all across the country, the message is clear: we’re all in this together.

All this said, maybe the point here is that tonight, if you’re sitting up, you should talk to someone. Shoot a guy you are on shift with a Facebook message, text your best friend, send your Dad an e-mail, or send me a Tweet. Whatever you do, don’t sit up alone tonight. Let’s take the night back and make it a time when we connect with our fellow responders in order to chip away the stigmas about expression and mental health that have been plaguing the fire service for decades. Let’s use the night as a chance to help one another.
And then, maybe we can get some sleep.

 

Don’t forget to share this post with your colleagues and friends and be sure to check back for future posts! You can interact with Lauren any time on Twitter using the handle @ClassyInCrisis or at lmauser@ffbha.org. We encourage you to hashtag posts using #FBHA and #MauserStandard for things you’d like to share!

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FBHA – 2014 Year in Review

The 2014 year began with an auspicious start, as just three days into the new year, I had my gall bladder removed. Yet, with the grace of God I was on a plane to Sault Ste. Marie, MI four days later, for the first of our many workshops and speaking engagements for 2014.

Facts:

FBHA hit the road, or I should say air, and flew 52,000 miles in covering the thirty-three workshops and conferences.  We visited thirteen states, some multiple times, and we even went to the great State of Alaska.  FBHA also went to Alberta, Canada to speak to our Canadian brothers and sisters.  Our workshops were presented to over thirteen hundred firefighters and EMS personnel.  It was a great honor to meet people from all over North America, who invited us into their lives, and made us feel like family.

The cause for all this travel is to reduce and hopefully eliminate FF/EMT suicides.  In 2014, there were 88 reported and validated suicides to FBHA. Our overall number is 566 lost brothers and sisters that have been validated from 1880 – 2014. The sad fact here is we believe only 25% of the 30,000+ fire departments and an unknown amount of EMS organizations even know of FBHA to report these tragic events.  We hope to visit more states, departments and FF/EMT’s in 2015 to spread the word about suicide prevention.

Financial:

FBHA received a Fire Prevention & Safety grant this year through FEMA/AFG. It has allowed us to offer 25 free workshops to fire departments all across America in 2014 and 2015.  FBHA plans to re-apply for another grant when the application period opens.

Assistance:

On a personal note I would like to thank all of my brothers and sisters who contacted us looking for help. Your trust and faith in our abilities has touched my heart.  You were commended for reaching out and we took that seriously by providing counselors and chaplains in your area to meet who understood our culture. Your e-mails about your success stories have truly affected me beyond words.

Donations:

FBHA would like to thank everyone who donated to our cause.  Your kindness is deeply appreciated, plus your faith in our organization has carried us to a certain point.  During these difficult financial times FBHA realizes every non-for-profit organization is asking for support and we are no different.  No salaries are drawn, except for payment made to instructors for presenting our workshops.  We must charge for our workshop if we are to continue our efforts, and keep our organization above water. Several manufacturers were approach by FBHA for assistance but we were given wrong contact information, they would never return calls or stated they donate to another major firefighter foundation.  We will continue to fight to find funding but the outlook for FBHA to continue past 2015 looks bleak.  We will be working diligently to avoid this unfortunate set of circumstances.

2015:

FBHA has 40 workshops scheduled and working to schedule another ten requests that have come in to us.  We are also excited to be instituting an Ambassador Program for next year.  Dozens of requests from people across America, and a few from Canada, have expressed their interest in helping FBHA expand in 2015. Ambassadors will be assigned a territory to work for us as a part time position. We have scheduled the first annual Suicide Survivor Retreat: Those Left Behind, for May 2015. We have made the deposit on the location. Instructors have been selected and attendees have registered. We are hoping we can raise enough funds to make this happen.

In closing, I want to express my gratitude to all of those who support us.  It has been three years of serving the fire service community by educating them about a very difficult subject.  The friends we have made have been a tremendous benefit of this difficult work.

I also want to express my deepest condolences to the loved ones that have lost a family member to suicide, not only this year, but for all those in past years.  No one can comfort the pain and loss they have felt, but please know there are so many people who are trying to make changes on behalf of your loved ones.  Changes that I feel will be for the positive to improve the culture of both fire and EMS services.

Lastly, I want to thank my wife for volunteering hours upon hours to support this mission. It would have never been as successful as it has been without her.

Sincerely,

Jeff Dill, Founder

12/31/14

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What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?

12/10/14

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?  I was asked this question a few days ago when someone learned about me being a flight nurse. In all the times that I have been asked this question, I am unable to give a satisfactory answer. I usually say, “I see a lot of hurt people.”  So I decided to answer this question, not just for the inquiring minds, but for myself.

I struggle with the question, even now, as I sit here gathering my thoughts. There are a couple of reasons I struggle.  The first reason is, to be honest, I can’t remember the worst thing I have ever seen.  Is this a blessing or a curse?  Without a doubt this is a blessing.  God has no doubt given me the gift of forgetfulness, when it comes to remembering the human tragedies that I have seen as I have nursed people back to life. Let me also clarify that, on several occasions, there are families and patients I have thought about after my shift is over. Some of which I have prayed for. In addition, if I have taken care of you in the last few weeks, I will remember, or if it’s introduced or mentioned. Let me assure you, this is not a case of short term memory loss. The things I have seen have made a profound impact on the decisions that I make day in and day out.

So PLEASE, don’t take this the wrong way, especially if I have taken care of your loved one and you see me at the grocery store or around town.  For example, on occasion I will have someone tell me, “You took care of my mom!! Remember the 83 year old that you flew 4 months ago who was in a coma and you had to put a breathing tube in!!”  I am going to hug you and say, “How is she?” All the while, I will be trying to recall that specific flight.  I know it’s not your “everyday.”  But then again it’s not every day that you almost lose your mom or see them with an endotracheal tube sticking out of their mouth, however it is my “everyday.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes things happen in this field that is not my “everyday.”  Mass causality incidents, rescues, or impaled objects in a human body, just to name a few….and of course I can recall those types of incidences as I sit here pondering.  Nonetheless, when that question is asked of me, and I am demanded an answer, I truly am unable to point to one specific incidence. I don’t think the answer they are looking for is, “I am unable to recall.”  And so…I believe that this is how I am able to have the “desire” to continue to take care of the sickest of the sickest. All because I like to go home without letting that shift consume my thoughts, further allowing me to go back to the base, ready for the next flight.

The second reason I struggle with this question, is when I am asked, my heart and mind urge quietly, telling me, “Don’t go there.” Because if I do, by chance recall an event, or the question does drag forth a situation from way back in my mind that I haven’t forgot….It’s BAD!  It’s something that I’m not going to share with you.  That can be a loaded question, especially if I have seen a mass causality or gunshot wound to the head in the last few weeks. That innocent person behind the question….well, I want to keep it that way, innocent.  Innocent to the pain, suffering, trauma, and what we do to fight the inevitable, death.

There are many times a particular event has played over and over and over in my head.  To narrow it down to that one time, at that given moment, when the question is asked, is not going to happen. I know that is why I am able to get up and put that flight suit on.  I have been given a drive to be a nurse.  I’m able to forget the bad, all while remembering the good.  It’s my coping mechanism.  Not that I try to forget, it’s the way God made me.  If I wasn’t given the ability to forget, I’m afraid I would probably think twice about taking my next assignment.  Instead, when the tones go off, I am able to confidently strap on my helmet and be prepared for what I will see when we land.  I will be able to give my ALL, to keep you alive and get you to an intervention as quickly as possible, so that hopefully you will have a quality life when it’s all said and done.

Now, to answer this question with an answer that is probably not the answer you are expecting. It’s not the dead, bloody, mangled body that bothers me. When I see something that we would define as horrible, I am not thinking in that moment “this is the worst thing I have ever seen.”  It’s the circumstances that go along with it.  The emotions…

SO, here is my answer.  It’s the worst when I am flying a dad, who was the driver and the only survivor in a motor vehicle accident.  I think about how this dad is going to have to go on living with guilt because he didn’t put his child in a car seat and now his baby is dead. Or it’s the worst, when on the way to the hospital, my patient is showing obvious signs of brain death and I think about how the patient’s husband is going to have to make the decision to discontinue her life and decide to let her go.

Or even worse, the most selfish act that I’ve seen, is when a patient is declared “brain dead” and kept alive forever, by the same machines and drugs we would use to save a life. All while wasting away in that hospital bed, suffering without the quality of life, because letting her go to meet our Maker, is just too hard of a decision for those living here on earth. Or I could say the worst is, when you hear a frightened baby crying out for his momma, within a mangled mess of what’s left of the car, as he remains safely strapped in his car seat. While at the same time we work vigorously to save his mother, who is located in the ditch, after getting thrown out of the vehicle… I could go on and on with these disheartening stories.

Therefore, I hope this quenches the curiosity for those that have asked this question.  Let alone, at least now you know why, when asked, I will still be unable to give you a specific answer.

Grace and peace be with you.

Lesley Karonika, RN BSN CCRN CFRN EMT-B

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Giving Tuesday: An Open Letter to the Communities We Serve

L. Mauser
12/01/2014

Hello, USA and Canada!

There are dozens of organizations you could chose to donate your hard-earned money to tomorrow on what is referred to as ‘Giving Tuesday.’ My fiancé Eric and I are as generous as possible every year on this day as a way to counteract the insanity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You might say Giving Tuesday restores our faith in humanity just a little bit. If you’re somebody who is currently looking for a great foundation to give even a small donation, I highly suggest you start with Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.

If your house catches on fire today, you want the fire department to show up, right? If you are in an automobile accident and seriously injured, you would want the fire department and EMS to show up and take care of you, huh? Exactly. That’s what we do; it’s a calling and we’re so glad to be able to help anyone in their time of need. What we do here at FBHA is help those in the fire service and EMS in their time of need. The better we feel, mentally and physically, the better we can come to your aid should you need to call 911 for an emergency. Should you choose FBHA for your Giving Tuesday charity, your donation would go a long way to help firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics in your own community. Every 2.5 days according to current reporting statistics, we lose a firefighter or member of EMS to suicide in the US and Canada. We need your help to stop this trend.

We’re a foundation formed out of necessity and are working day and night to better understand firefighter/EMS suicide with the nation’s only reporting service and using the information we learn to prevent other suicides. Captain Dill, our founder, treks across the country giving fantastic workshops to fire departments about bettering our brother’s and sister’s mental health and we work shoulder to shoulder with those struggling, the families left behind after suicide, and with those who want to make sure they stay mentally fit. After losing my Dad, Captain Mike Mauser, to suicide in January of this year, I began working with FBHA and can tell you there’s no better place to entrust your donation than with us. My Father was a firm believer in using the best tools of the trade to fight fire and save lives, but unfortunately he didn’t know the strongest tool he could ever use: Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.

Me & My Dad during a hose ops class he was teaching

Me & My Dad during a hose ops class he was teaching, three months before his death.

I thank you, from the depths of my heart, for considering FBHA for your Giving Tuesday donation. You can make your donation at any time by going to our website, ffbha.org. From everyone here at the Alliance, we send you warm wishes for a lovely and safe holiday season.

Loyally,

Lauren Mauser, FBHA Fundraising Coordinator

Don’t forget to share this post with your colleagues and friends and be sure to check back for future posts! Keep up with all the news from FBHA on our Facebook page! You can interact with Lauren any time on Twitter using the handle @ClassyInCrisis and we encourage you to hashtag posts using #FBHA and #MauserStandard for things you’d like to share! 

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Welcome Message for New Facebook Followers

Hello and welcome!

With mental health and suicide gaining traction as a topic of discussion in the fire service and EMS, we’d like to take a moment of your time to share details about FBHA. While we are the first and only group collecting data on firefighter and EMS suicide, other organizations are looking to get involved and we’d like to share resources we have available and explain why we are considered an authority on suicide data reporting.

Being the first organization to address firefighter suicide has not always been easy and we continue to face challenges today, but remain committed to our purpose for countless reasons, including survivor support. Many families who have lost a loved one in the fire service to suicide have faced feeling rejected and disrespected by organizations that deal with firefighter/EMS deaths from other situations, including line of duty deaths. While we understand each organization has a specific mission, and respect all organizations for their protocols, it should be noted that Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance stands shoulder to shoulder with any family facing the loss of someone in the fire service. There is no situation too dark or too delicate for our assistance. We have stood firmly behind these principles even when it was much more difficult to talk about suicide and mental health in the firehouse, and will continue to do so.

We are so thankful for other groups committed to bettering the health of first responders, especially those who have become partners with FBHA. To have others take up this fight with us is both flattering and empowering. We believe that we are stronger together and our exclusive reporting service is an important tool for all of our partner organizations. As I mentioned earlier, FBHA is the only organization in the world that collects data on firefighter and EMS suicide and is considered by leaders in the fire service across the US and Canada as the authority for suicide reporting. Every time a suicide is submitted to us for data collection (which can be done securely and anonymously on our website, ffbha.org) we sort through details and use it, along with the hundreds of other deaths we’ve confirmed, to provide feedback to EMS and fire officials. This is significant, because in order to stop these suicides, we must learn why they happen and share that information. While we keep information about all cases private, we are able to use what we learn to help others. We are dedicated to this task and are so glad to hear from those of you, far and wide, who support our efforts.

Our founder, Jeff Dill, holds a Master’s degree, is a Licensed Counselor, member of the American Counseling Association, Illinois Counseling Association, Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, and is a member of several firefighting organizations including the International Association of Firefighters and Illinois Firefighters Association. Because of his education, years of experience, and ability to successfully create workshops which educate those in the fire service and EMS about suicide, we have not only created a powerful organization, but also have become a catalyst for an entire movement. We are proud to be among those leading the charge to break down the stigma of mental illness in the fire service and happy to be the only organization collecting suicide reports on our  brothers and sisters, no matter how difficult.

We invite all of you, no matter where you are, to become participants in our work and take up this fight with us. Information is available at our website (www.ffbha.org), on our Facebook page, or on Twitter and we welcome you to drop an e-mail to us at anytime. We look forward to your support!

Loyally,
Lauren Mauser, FBHA Fundraising Coordinator

You can reach Lauren at lmauser@ffbha.org and Jeff Dill at jdill@ffbha.org

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