Thursday, August 2, 2012

Who Cares if a Firefighter Kills Themselves? Not Many!

I spent yesterday in Denver at the Denver Convention Center the host location for the Fire-Rescue International Conference with Chief Jeff Dill of the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District in suburban Chicago.

B/C Dill is a nationally recognized authority on behavioral health issues within the fire service. He established Counseling Services for Fire Fighters, LLC based on the tragic events that surrounded Hurricane Katrina. When speaking with firefighters who returned after serving the community of New Orleans, Jeff heard the pleas of firefighters who had a difficult time talking with counselors who did not have any firefighting experience. They became frustrated and never did seek the help they needed. You can listen to Jeff’s last appearance on the Firefighter Netcast Show here: “Counseling For a Firefighter- By a Firefighter” In this program, Chief Dill tells us about a new resource coming to the aid of the fire service. Last month, Chief Dill announced the formation of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA). The new 501(c) (3) organization was established to directly educate firefighters/ Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel and their families about behavioral health issues such as depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and addictions, as well as firefighter suicides. FBHA's sole goal is to promote good mental health to the men and women of the fire service/EMS and their families, as well as make a significant difference in reducing the numbers of firefighters who are turning to suicide to ease their pain. FBHA Founder Jeff Dill holds a Master's Degree in Counseling, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Illinois.

What an amazing and passionate man. Chief Dill has spent countless hours helping fire departments all over America in dealing with firefighter suicide and also comforting the families of those left behind.

Here are two dirty secrets of our storied institution the fire service. When one of us suicides out the event is treated like an off the job incident, in my opinion it rarely is, it is a line of duty death to me, but that isn’t how we treat it.

Second the families of these brothers and sisters (yeah women firefighters off themselves too) are treated differently than a firefighter that dies an honorable death. They may get short term support from their department but they and the memory of their father, husband, wife, sister, or brother is quickly forgotten.

We don’t like to talk about this fact of our way of life; it’s scary to think about, so we step away quickly so we don’t have to think about it.

Chief Dill had invited me to speak about my experience as a suicide survivor and firefighter. After I shared my story with an unfortunately tiny audience a Chief asked me if there was anything any of my co-workers could have done back then.

My answer was a solid yes! My crew knew I was suffering, they knew I was “Off” my game I displayed all the characteristics of someone on the brink. But here is the thing I know if one of them had pressed me, really asked how I was doing I would have cracked.

Now I’m not putting any blame on anyone (other than myself) it isn’t their fault I tried to kill myself. What I am saying is this, if we are the brave souls we fancy ourselves to be, shouldn’t we be brave enough to risk asking these questions of ourselves and our co-workers? Shouldn’t one of the lives we try to save be one of our own? I know I questioned patients hard when they seemed to be a risk to themselves, hell I put hundreds on medical holds.

Yet I refused to ask the hard questions of brothers and sisters I suspected of being in danger. It would have been impolite to ask.

As I waited to speak with Chief Dill I tried to work the crowd on his behalf, try and stir up some interest and get a good crowd to come listen to Chief Dill. Well wasn’t I surprised. There were two major reactions, one was to be polite, take my information and then quickly toss it in the trash. The other one shocked me.

I was sitting outside and struck up a conversation with two Chiefs from California. I gave them our little hand-out that has the warning signs of an impending suicide. They both read it, then one looked at the other and in unison they said the name of a firefighter and both laughed a bit.

I asked them, “So you both agree you have a guy with these warning signs?” both answered without hesitation yes. Then I asked what they planned to do about that. They sat there tongue tied with their eyes blinking. “Well we gotta get inside we’re teaching a class. Thanks for the information.” And with that they walked away.

Ask the hard questions you may save a brother or sister, or maybe yourself.

Below is a self-screening for suicide ideations for firefighters.  Please circle either Y= Yes, or N=No.  When you have completed screening please review your score at the end of the screening.

  1. Are you feeling like a burden to your family, friends, or Fire Company?          Y     N

  1. Do you feel the world would be a better place without you in it?                     Y     N

  1. Have you started to isolate yourself from others in the firehouse?                Y    N          
  1. Have you found yourself turning to alcohol or other addictive behaviors to make yourself feel better?                                                                                                                        Y          N
  1. Have you or someone close to you notice that your sleeping patterns have changed?            Y         N

  1. Are you thinking, “What is the use” when going to the fire house or responding on calls?     Y       N

  1. Do you find yourself thinking about or performing unnecessary risks while at a fire scene or on an emergency incident?                                                                                               Y         N

  1. Have you found an increased or new interest in risky activities outside the firehouse such as: sky-diving, reckless motorcycle riding or purchasing guns?                             Y         N

  1. Are you displaying unexplained angry emotions or been disciplined recently for anger towards other firefighters?  Officers? Or the Public within the last two months?            Y   N                                                         
  10. Have you been told that “you have changed” by:          Friends? Family?  Fellow firefighters? 
             Y    N             

  1. Does your family have a history of a suicide?                                                             Y    N

  12. Do you have a history of feeling depressed? 
                              Y   N                                     

  13.   Do you have feelings of            hopelessness?                                                                         Y    N

  14.   Do you feel like killing yourself?                                                                                  Y     N

  15.  Have you created plans to kill yourself?                                                                                 Y    
  16.  Have you recently attempted to kill yourself?                             Y     N

Scoring: Total the amount of (Yes) circled.

If you circled question 15 or 16, then please seek help immediately from a trusted friend, chaplain, counselor, dial 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433.


Jenn said...

I'm so proud to call you friend. I'm glad you spoke up...and spoke out and you along with Chief Dill are driving awareness. And how sad--absolutely sad that those Fire Chief's from CA know they have a brother (or sister) hurting and yet they still don't know what to do about it...and kind of appalling that they laughed. Yikes! Anyway--awareness is key--keep getting the word out there on this-- and eventually people will open their ears and listen. Hopefully before another firefighter takes their lives. :) Cheers, Jenn.

Jo said...

You have taught us so much about being a firefighter and the stresses and the joys of the job.
I am appalled at any human laughing at the signs of depression in a co-worker at any level. Disgusting.
Thank you, Tim for being one who will talk about being a survivor and talk about helping, reaching out and never turning away from someone who is in need.

Keep talking and keep educating. It's much needed.

Fireman said...

I'm proud to have you as a friend Jenn, It was so frustrating to try and get people to come to the lecture so many should and so many didn't.

Fireman said...

Thank you Jo, it really is so much like bashing your head against the wall with these people. The biggest barrier is getting through the culture of these men and women. It really is a dirty secret.

Obat Kuat said...

good posting about Who Cares if a Firefighter Kills Themselves? Not Many!

shannon pennington said...

I am suprised that Jeff Dill has not mentioned our organization over at on the web and North American Firefighter Veteran Network or N.A.F.F.V.N. I was with Jeff at the Emergency Symposium on Depression and Suicide sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation June 2011 held in Baltimore Md. While Jeff runs a program to help firefighters our organization is active in presentation and educational outreach on the subject of depression and suicide reduction in the American and Canadian fire services. F.I.R.S.T. S.T.E.P. H.O.P.E. and the F.I.R.E.S. Within Suicide Reduction Program are two of our educational components that are having a dramatic effect on the outcomes in terms of the subject. Jeff and his work is evidence based with science. We operate from a firefighterveteran point of view and offer a front line perspective. Our organization has been on the internet since late 2006 and operates globally as well as in the United States and Canada. We talk about the "Emotional Smoke of the Events that effect us" The H.O.T. or Hazordous Overload of Thoughts regarding depression. We use the phrase H.E.A.T. meaning Heavy Emotional Afterthoughts regarding the trauma we are exposed to. We also have a firefighterveteran bill of rites. Check it out on the web site. In the meantime those who are progressives in the service are getting connected to the wealth of information by using google search engine and the words firefighter depression and suicide. See section 13 of the Everyone Goes Home of the 16 firefighter Life Safety Initiatives that come to us from the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. Also see Peggy Sweeney of the Sweeney Alliance "Grieving Behind the Badge" locator on the front page of No information out there.....are you kidding me?
Jeff Knows Better and Now so does everyone else. No excuse here...get connected to larger diameter thinking and the large volume of information on the internet.
Shannon H. Pennington Executive Director/Senior Chief
North American Firefighter Veteran Network
Ex IAFF 26 year career firefightger

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family counseling in Denver will always be there for you :)