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Fire Prevention Month: Firefighters Deserve a Safe and Secure Workplace

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October 17, 2016   Guest writer: Beth K

To commemorate National Fire Prevention Month that is observed every October, firefighters across the nation take to schools, libraries and community centers to educate everyone about the importance of taking preventative measures. The first Fire Prevention Weekwas started to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed more than 250 people and left 100,000 homeless. This famous blaze forever changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about communicating fire safety. On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, today’s International Fire Marshals Association decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be celebrated in such a way that would help  keep the public informed and aware of the dangers of fire.

But what of the safety culture – the value placed on both physical and mental wellbeing – in fire departments? Firefighters and emergency professionals risk their lives each day: according to The National Fire Protection Association, every 24 seconds firefighters respond to a fire somewhere in the nation. But safety training often comes in second, and it is oftentimes difficult toimplement a major shift in attitudes about what it means to be “tough.”

Safety is put in jeopardy when firefighters adhere to heroic concepts and do not address the unique physical and mental stressors of their job in a timely manner. Stopping a strong gut instinct and waiting for the right time to enter a building is a mental struggle that only professionals can grasp after many years on the job. Burns, broken bones and other injuries are common for firefighters who don’t put their health first. But professionals must prioritize their own health so that they can continue to help others – including their own.

There are no easy solutions to a firefighter’s daily struggles, but there can be some simple preventative measures. Fire chiefs are where workplace safety starts. Before an emergency call, every professional should be properly geared up with a safety belt across their chests. By taking safety seriously at the firehouse, those concepts can be extended to the field workplace. A fire from the previous day can be the focus of a small meeting. When firefighters can speak about their concerns, their mental well-being can improve. Fire chiefs might note if anyone is having deeper issues with a trauma. Group sessions, professional referrals and other resources may be offered so that everyone deals with the issues in a healthy way.

As mental health comes into the light, more fire-fighting departments are working with their teams to help anyone who needs it. In many cases, every experienced firefighter may need some counseling to deal with the day-to-day stresses that they encounter. All members of fire and rescue teams use every piece of their training to save families and property from the damage and danger of smoke and flame, but “training” comes in many forms. If an individual has never been taught to observe the warning signs of behavioral health trouble in himself or his teammates, it’s hard to know how to take action.

Helping promote a culture of safety concerns everyone – firefighters, emergency personnel, and the public they serve. National Fire Safety Month exists to improve everyone’s understanding of the importance of preventing disasters before they occur. Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms – and smoke detectors don’t last forever. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)requires smoke alarms to be replaced at 10 year intervals, but because the public is generally unaware, many homes have smoke detectors past their expiration date. More families today are purchasing smart home fire systems, which typically off some form of remote monitoring – either continuous or on-demand – to help tip off residents if a fire starts at any time. But smart alarms and technology cannot do it all.

As National Fire Safety Month continues throughout October, it’s an opportune time to shed light on the crucial importance of a department’s safety climate and improve everyone’s relationship to preventative safety measures.

 

Beth K is a freelance health and family blogger based in the Midwest. After she graduated from DePaul University with a Communications degree in 2011, Beth moved to South Korea to teach English and study traditional holistic health and yoga practices. Today she lives in Chicago with her rabbit, Anthony Hopkins.

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Let’s Talk

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September 28, 2016 –  Guest Writer: Nick Baskerville –

One day, I’m riding in the back of the fire engine, because, when you are in the fire department, that’s what you do. Then a guy looks at me and says “so, what are you good at?” “Nothing, really” “Come on, everybody’s good at something! That guy, was Marcello Trejo. He was good at plenty of things: Fitness. Compassion. Keeping people laughing. He was the kind of person that when he came to mind, I would wonder what kind of extraordinary impact he would have on the entire fire service. He was not the guy I would have thought would have taken his own life. TD Jakes talks in one of his sermons that some people can be going through turmoil and no one ever know it. Are you one of those folks with turmoil hidden behind a smile? Would you know what to do if someone you knew was that person?

I would love to time travel to a point in time to keep Marcello here. But I can’t. Instead, I figure I’d reach out to you. When I take a flight, the stewardess has in their safety briefing that when we lose cabin pressure, first put your mask, then help the person next to you. In the military and in public safety, we rarely do that. Instead, we fail to see how taking care of ourselves, can be the best things we can do to help others.

For the month of Sep, I’ve decided that every day, I’ll do 22 pushups for the military suicides that happen every day. Then another 13 Burpees to represent initiative 13, the Behavioral Health Initiative from the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. I started to video the workouts, but then I thought “I’m no star athlete, what’s the point in that?” Instead, day morning, I’m going post something I learn about mental health or suicide. A story. A fact. Info about an organization. Sometimes it will be a video, sometimes just an encouraging word.

The challenge I have for you, not to do push ups. Go learn something new about mental health or suicide, and post on my blog at www.helpasks4u.wordpress.com  Whether the help is for you personally, Or if the help is for someone you care about, remember this:

  • “Ask for Help, because help always asks for you.” Marcello Trejo

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Michael

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September 28, 2016  Message from a brother, Joseph Bonanno.

One of Michael’s proudest moments is when he became a member of the New York City Fire Department. He enjoyed a great career and also thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie within it’s ranks. Unfortunately, a back injury ended his career early, maybe too early, one of the issues he struggled with after leaving the fire service. The pictures above tell only a portion of what he was as a person. I am Joseph Bonanno, Michael’s brother and also a veteran of the FDNY.

The picture above is of Michael (in the light blue shirt) and I, at a train station with our gear on September 12, 2001 on our way to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. Even dealing with a disabling back injury, he insisted on responding and we both worked side by side, tirelessly in search of survivors or helping other firefighters. His company, Ladder 7, lost 5 members that day and it was his shift that was working that morning. We all lost so much that terrible morning as the world both grieved and applauded the FDNY.

Michael married, adopted a daughter and lived in several places, Morro Bay, CA, Asheville, NC, Destin, FL and eventually settled in Cleveland, OH.

Our family suffered another terrible loss early in our lives. Our dear mother, Audrey Bonanno was severely burned in a fire in our home in 1981 and succumbed to the injuries a week later. Michael, like all of us, took it hard, as well as 9/11 and struggled with alcohol, family issues, back pain and depression. He worked very hard to fight these demons and assisted so many others through difficult times. He volunteered much at his local church, was a talent in the kitchen cooking for the homeless, learned all the various home improvement skills and helped so many with this, sponsoring AA meetings and was always there if and when needed.

He was a kind soul and loved by many. Sadly, on July 31, 2012, he took his life in a terrible way, which shocked and saddened all who knew him. It was something that most firefighters cannot fathom happening, yet it happens more often than I ever knew and sadly, now know personally. The grief and confusion that happens the wake of suicide is something no one should ever have to endure, especially those who sacrifice so much for so many. For those that read this and have considered suicide as an option, PLEASE GO SOMEWHERE FOR HELP. I can tell you first hand, you are not better off and for sure, not the ones you leave behind. For the survivors of suicide, I also wish that you seek help and support and pray for your healing.

Joseph Bonanno

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Tim

 

September 26, tk2016  From a mom, Jean Willis

When Tim was 4 years old and living in the city of Rochester, NY, the city fire department sent a truck down our street to promote smoke alarms. The firefighters let little Timmy climb up into the truck and wear their helmet. From that day on, Tim wanted to be a firefighter. He never wavered in his goal. Tim started out as an Explorer on the Brighton, NY fire department. From there he became a volunteer and finally a paid firefighter in 1995. This was the culmination of a 20 year dream.

Tim loved being a fireman and helping others. While he struggled in high school with the relevance of the courses, once he started firefighter training, he had no problem with the course work. A co-worker said of Tim, that he was a great PR person for the fire department, because when a town resident brought their family to the fire department, Tim would be the first one up to show them around. He was wonderful with both parents and the kids.

He also gave to his community. He volunteered for Brighton Ambulance, was an Explorer leader for several years. He was an avid bicyclist, riding for many charities: The Tour de Cure, heart, and cancer. Tim was the first person to help all his family and friends with moving, hauling, babysitting; anything that was needed. He was a huge supporter of his godchild in all her endeavors. He was a wonderful son and a very protective older brother. He enjoyed kayaking, jet skiing and cross-country skiing. He loved photography and was at any fire scene where there was a possibility of good pictures. Some of his pictures were featured in a national fire magazine.

From late teen years on, Tim fought the battle of depression. At times it put him into a very dark space. Other times he could cover and hide his depression from everyone. It did not affect his ability to do his job as a firefighter. Tim fought long and hard for many years. He was a victim of both the insidious depression and over prescribing of depression medications. In the end, Tim just couldn’t fight any longer and took his own life. At his eulogy a co-worker (a cancer survivor) said “…depression is a disease like cancer. For some, the medicines work, for others they don’t.” Unfortunately the medicines were a part of Tim’s demise. Tim is missed everyday by his family and friends.

Jean Willis

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Todd

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September 24, 2016 – Viewpoint of a dad, Al Diercks.

2016 has been an unpleasant milestone. It’s been five years since we lost our son Todd to suicide and I’m still mad.

This emotion is not within the context of the “anger” that’s academically included as “one of the 5 normal stages of grief”.  Certainly, all our family members hit various  “denial, “acceptance” and “depression” levels but I can say that I never sensed any anger toward his suicide – only an overriding feeling of compassion and deep remorse.

With the exception of incidents driven by drug use, it has always been hard for me to understand how any individual could lose all hope and see no alternative to suicide.  Obviously, it was this level of naiveté that kept this outcome hidden from our view – even as Todd’s joy in life continued to spiral in a cruel string of events that he called “his black cloud.”

This included relationship issues and an off-duty spinal injury that ended his career as a firefighter and shattered his sense of self-worth.  A subsequent marriage, stillborn child, financial struggles, divorce, self-medication and job loss combined to take him down.

While many seem to point the finger at those who’ve chosen to take their lives  — boldly and blindly accusing them of having made a “cowardly” decision —  I focus more heavily on the fact that suicide is preventable!   As part of this conviction, I’ll always carry the natural “woulda, coulda, shoulda” assessments.  At least I’ve shed the self-appointed title of “bad Dad.”

So during the years of keeping myself, at least loosely tied to my own whipping post, I’ve learned a lot about the other players and processes that can help keep the progressive  “mental / behavioral health issues . . .  to mental illness . . . to depression  . . . to suicide” issue under a greater level of control.

Through my own non-professional observation, I’ve noted needs in the following areas:

  • At the earliest stages, universities, fire schools and departments need to let candidates know (and SEE) the type of situations they WILL be exposed to.
  • The issue of “mental fitness for duty” should be considered as important as physical health for firefighters and EMT’s.  Funding should be resourced and allocated for ongoing training and screening in this area.  This should contribute to more open, non-threatening discussion and mutual support throughout departments.
  • Chiefs and Training Officers should be tested toassess their own levels of conviction and stigma that may affect or limit actions in their mental health training programs
    • Comparative financial/legal impact studies should be calculated to project personnel costs / lost time, training, insurance/treatment, possible damage/legal implications.   (with AND without periodic mental health training).  Assuming this would be done at Fire Protection District, IAFF, Municipal, Local and State government levels
  • Contracted (EAP) Employee Assistance Program providers must be selected from firms that have a minimum level of Fire/EMS/Trauma-specific training (hrs. TBD) to be considered in contract evaluations.
  • Pharmacists, primary care physicians and LCSW’s who support first responders need to have more effective lines of communications to prevent interactions and misuse.

These are only recommendations but we put it out there as a wish list.  Whatever your connection to fire/EMS, we hope you can help make some of these wishes happen by guidance, participation or contributions — any amount will be appreciated !

Sincerely,

Al Diercks & Family

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FBHA IN OVIEDO, SPAIN

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September 19, 2016  Guest writer and FBHA Instructor: Dr. Derrick L. Edwards LPC-MHSP

Wow! The 16th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicide Behavior in Oviedo, Spain was such an amazing experience! Researchers and clinicians from all over the world met to discuss, share, and collaborate with one another in an effort to reduce the incidence of suicide. The opening ceremony began with a realization that every 40 seconds a life is lost due to suicide. The ripple effect from each of these events led to an acknowledgement that nearly all of us have lost someone to this terrible tragedy. As both a clinician and researcher I was struck with this thought for perhaps the first time; and suddenly the reason people avoid the topic of suicide became so intensely clear… We avoid talking about suicide because we have been affected by it in some way. Perhaps, even while reading this blog, you are reminded of a friend or family member you have lost. Let’s face it, we don’t enjoy being reminded of these tragic events. However, I believe that we have an obligation, to the ones we have yet to lose, to understand suicide more clearly so that we can develop better, lifesaving, interventions. We can better honor the ones we have lost by openly discussing their lives, and the factors leading to their deaths. I wanted to share three quick thoughts I have gained from my time in Oviedo.

  1. Buy time

Suicide is not a spontaneous decision, and is typically the result of meticulous planning. However, the act of suicide happens in a single moment. One of the most effective things you can do to help someone who is contemplating suicide is to ask for more time to get them some help. The vast majority of hospitalized suicidal patients report they are glad they did not complete their plan.

  1. Be present

Individuals who attempt to end their own lives often feel as if they are not understood. In other words, they feel lost in the crowd. By being present in the life of others, you are telling them that they matter. We can all appreciate the feelings we have when we are noticed by others. Have you let the people around you know that you see them? You may save their life!

  1. Say something

Too often we have concerns about others and never make our concerns known. If you suspect that someone is considering ending their life… ASK! Asking if someone is suicidal does not “put the idea in their head”, nor does it make your relationship forever awkward. If anything, you are communicating that you care about them and are concerned for their well-being. This is increasingly true for young people, who often report feeling worried about “telling” on their friends. Parents and educators have an especially important role in teaching children how to respond to a suicidal friend.
As we take part in suicide awareness month, it is my hope that we can both honor the lost while better preparing for the future. If you are someone who is considering suicide, I beg you to reach out for help. You are not lost, and I want you know that we see you. I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of people while in Spain who are working diligently to help YOU! Give us a chance to make a difference!

 

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Kenny

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September 15, 2016  A letter from a sister, Amanda Azbell

Today, September 13th, is my third birthday with no birthday card.  No phone call with a teasing, humorous Happy Birthday song, no Facebook post with an embarrassing picture from when I was little, nothing.

This is what my birthday will look like for the rest of my life, because I lost my brother to suicide.

Now, I will get an abundance of phone calls, texts, cards, and Facebook Happy Birthday messages that are graciously appreciated.  But the one I don’t get, leaves quite an impact.

Life is too short to begin with, please don’t make it any shorter by making the choice to end it.  You might not have thought of this, so let me say it to you now.  Your sister, your brother, your father, and your mother will miss the birthday cards you won’t send.  They will miss the phone calls you don’t make.  They will miss the hugs you’re not around to give.  YOU WILL BE MISSED!  Oh, and don’t forget your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, friends… This list goes on and on.  Although it’s been over 2 years I still find myself wanting to tell my brother about something that happened, and having a wave of sadness come over me when reality hits me that I can’t.  When you choose to leave this world, you are creating a mountain sized hole in the hearts of those who loved you.  Do you realize the pain it would cause?  Do you realize the effect it will have on your loved ones?

Losing my brother to suicide has been the absolute hardest thing my family has ever gone through.  But you know what?  We are better people for having gone through it.  Although I wish I had never experienced this tragedy, I am grateful for how it has impacted my life, and the lives of my family and our friends.  I don’t take my family and friends for granted, that’s for sure.

When is the last time you told your sibling you loved them?  When is the last time you hugged them?  Can you remember?  I can’t.  My brother and I fought like cats and dogs growing up, and it only got somewhat better as we entered our 20’s.  When’s the last time you yelled at, hit, or said something unkind to your sibling?  I was with my brother for most of the day before he decided to end his life.  No punches were thrown – that day – and no harsh words were shouted, but that doesn’t mean nice words were exchanged.  Does it seem silly to you now, to get upset over something so small and trivial?  I hope it does.  As a sister who no longer gets to hug her brother, or tell him she loves him, it drives me nuts to see siblings fighting with one another.  Your siblings are the only friends you have that are with you your entire life!  Why would you waste that?  Be kind to one another.  Would my having been kinder to my brother maybe saved his life?  Who knows?  But at least then, the thought wouldn’t have crossed my mind.  Is it something you really want to live with on your heart?

If you are fighting with a family member, please make up.  Life is too short.  Do you really want your last words they hear from you to be unkind?

If you are going through a hard time and feel like giving up, please read through this one more time.  If you took a minute to think of all the ones you would leave behind, whose hearts would ache for you, wouldn’t that make a difference?  I hope it would.  I hope you realize how important you are, and how loved you are.  Do you really want your sister to be crying over the birthday card she didn’t get from you?

~ Still Saddened Sister ~

Amanda Azbell

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Peter

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September 12, 2016 – My Story by Peter Ruggeri
In November of 2014 my demons, both personal and professional, almost became too
much. I had a plan and what I thought was a way out of it all. Fortunately my “plan” didn’t come to fruition. I instead entered a treatment  program at a hospital in Vermont. While I was there I kept a journal and hope you will share the following short passage I wrote on one of my last days in treatment. There is hope, healing and peace to be found
   …………I’ve come to realize a lot of things here, I have a lot of work left to do, but I’ve realized that I can’t ever run from this. I’ve realized  the thoughts that were in my head in recent weeks don’t have to come to fruition. I’ve seen that the feelings don’t have to rule my existence. I’ve learned that there is no despair deeper than what we create for ourselves. The past is simply the past and no amount or type of emotion can change that. We have to accept it and move forward making a better future for ourselves. I realized that there is a way to heal and a way to find peace, self compassion and self love. It takes time and it takes work. I’m glad I did this on my own terms, it had a high price in many ways, but the difference in how I feel was worth the cost. I won’t miss the 13 hour days or the 6:00 AM wake up/work out but I will in a sense always miss this place and this time in my life.

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Gary

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September 11, 2016  –  A letter from a sister, Terri Celentani

For my brother Gary,

FDNY Firefighter 9290 A life, a moment in time, a man that captured our hearts who we will treasure forever! My brother Gary committed suicide on 9/25/2002.

Gary had spent months down at ground zero after the tragedy of 9/11. He had a passion and love for his job like no other. He had lost so many of his best friends and brothers that day and we all knew how devastated he was by their deaths, but never did we think he was capable of taking his own life! He never talked to us about what he had experienced. I asked him once the May before his death and his reply to me was … Don’t ask cause I’ll never tell you.

My brother was a great man and fireman. He had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone. We thought he was okay because he was in departmental counseling at the time of his death. If only we had known just what he was really going though! Nothing could have prepared me for the phone call on the night of September 25th telling me that my sweet baby brother had taken his life. He had become the 1st NYC Fireman to commit suicide post 9/11. Our world was shattered!

Please, I beg of anyone reading this who may feel hopeless and suicidal, to reach out and talk to a professional. What you don’t realize is that it is the ones you leave behind who are never whole again. Please don’t be another statistic. Your life matters to all who love you so very much. And, for those who are struggling with the death of a loved one by suicide, please seek help for yourselves. I spent years in counseling just trying to understand WHY!! Trust me it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.

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