This post submission is courtesy of ILFFPS team member Jimmy Nixon
One of the roles a peer supporter has is to check in on their peers when they may be having a challenging time. This is a tough thing to do… for anyone. However, someone has to do it and the responsibility falls on the peer support team. If you, as a peer supporter, do not feel comfortable doing this you can always call ILFFPS for guidance.
Who do you confront?
When we notice someone with changed behavior, isolating themselves more or being more aggressive, feeling hopeless, describing themselves as a burden etc. These are the people that may be dealing with a little extra stress that is coming out “sideways.” These are the people that may benefit from knowing that someone is there to talk to.
How to do it
Do not make it obvious that you are confronting them about mental health. Some people are not comfortable talking about their mental health and by making it known to other people you can shut them down really quick.
While you do not want to make it known to others, there is not always a perfect time to pull someone aside and you do not want to push this conversation off too long.
In-person vs. text/phone call (2)
Ideally, these conversations work best in person, but if you cannot make that happen a text message or phone call will work.
What to say?
The important part in this situation is to let the person know they have someone to whom they can talk. Simply pulling this person aside and asking how they are doing may be all they need to feel better.
If they get defensive, just remind them that you are only there to offer help and to make sure their needs are met (3).
Sometimes a more direct approach might work.
“Hey, that call you had last week was really rough. How are you holding up?”
If your peer wants to talk, let them. One of the most important tools for a peer supporter is active listening skills.
One of the worst things we can do is interrupt or try to solve the problem for them.
Remind them of the resources they have available to help them: EAP, ILFFPS, Professional Counselors etc.…
Follow up at a later time just to check in.
We can do a lot to help our brothers and sisters by relating and validating their feelings. By reaching out to those who might be in need, we might just make someone’s life a little bit better.
The following blog contribution is courtesy of ILFFPS team member Jimmy Nixon:
Peer support has an important function in the fire service and as more and more of us join the ranks, it is important to review information on how to continue to support our departments.
One very important way we can improve our effectiveness as peer supporters is by focusing on our rapport with our peers. The way the fire service operates is conducive to establishing a strong rapport with our peers already, but as peer supporters we need to pay closer attention to our rapport with the department.
Why is rapport important?
Rapport is the ability to relate to others(1). We have all understood the importance of building rapport with a patient in the ambulance or citizens in our towns. When we have rapport, they trust us and will likely work with us to solve whatever issue they have come to us for.
Building rapport in the firehouse works in a similar manner. When you work to build rapport with your department members, they will trust you when you talk about behavioral health issues and they will be more likely to come to you when they want peer support.
HOW TO BUILD RAPPORT
Practice Active Listening skills.
Actually listen to your peers, don’t just pretend like you’re listening so you can say what you need to say when they are finished.
Engage your peers in conversation. Find common ground to talk about. Ask open-ended questions to let them lead the conversation(2).
Building rapport involves relationships with others so participation in company activities is important. Be present at pass-on, training, cleaning, cooking, etc… Don’t isolate yourself from your company(3).
Pay attention to your interactions with your peers. Reflect on how well they went and if you need to make any adjustments for next time.
We have the chance to build rapport every day at the firehouse. We also have the opportunity to ruin our chances of helping others by diminishing our rapport with them.
By building your rapport with your peers you are better able to meet their needs, share your knowledge and be accessible for peer support.
To say that 2020 has been challenging is an understatement at best, and I hope this blog post finds you doing the best you can with what you have in each moment, to make this world a better place to live for all our brother and sister first responders.
One of the things I have learned during my time with ILFFPS, and the fire service in general, is that many people will cross paths with us in this lifetime to remind us of the importance of our life’s work- not only as first responders, but peer support persons as well.
One such person is Jacob Whitley who is the director of Brave Are The Fallen, a documentary about the life of his uncle Orange County Captain Thomas Wall. He reached out to me by email (after finding our website) to see if we would help spread the word about Brave.
Jacob gave me the honor of viewing the 52 minute story about his uncle who died in the line of duty on October 5th, 1998 while fighting a wildland fire. There are interviews with his family and colleagues that provide the viewer with the raw emotions that these individuals experienced on that day and the years to follow.
I found this documentary a blessing to be offered a peek into the life of a man who loved what he did, and did what he loved: being a husband, father, friend, and mentor to many firefighters – from the greenest rookie to the most seasoned veteran.
In my humble opinion, Brave is a gentle reminder that we should live life to the fullest as we are never granted tomorrow. It is a worthwhile investment to share Tom Wall’s story within firehouses across the country. Please visit the website https://www.bravearethefallen.com/ for further information.
The following is from the official press release as provided by Jacob:
The life story of a fallen firefighter is now available on Amazon Prime for streaming and DVD purchase.
An everyday hero, Thomas Wall was a protector and a leader to his family both at home and in the firehouse. He was a servant to his community and a source of inspiration. This heartfelt and inspiring documentary chronicles Tom’s life, and his untimely death while battling an inferno that he helped to put out, saving homes and lives one last time.
Press: Ranked at #5 on Firefighter Insider’s 11 Best Firefighter Documentaries, “Brave Are the Fallen is a sad story about the dangers that firefighters are exposed to.” “Jacob Whitley’s 52-minute feature doc Brave are the Fallen is a moving, heartfelt tribute to Captain Thomas Wall,” – The Independent Critic
Director’s Statement: “Brave are the Fallen was a personal project for me. This is a film about my family. Captain Tom Wall was my uncle. He was an influence to everyone around him and the go to guy when someone needed help with anything. I remember the day he died like it was yesterday. I was only a boy at that time, but the memory is still burned into my mind until this day. I hope that this documentary can bring Tom’s memory back to life and remind or share with others who Tom was and what kind of impact he left on his community in Orange County California. After going through the efforts of making this motion picture, I feel like I know Tom a lot more now than I did then and I can say more than ever, that I miss him.”
Captain Thomas Wall
To my brother and sister first responders and peer support personnel:
We do this work to serve and protect others in their time of need. We do peer support work to not only lift up our brothers and sisters we stand shoulder to shoulder with, but to honor and be there for those who are left behind- like the family of Captain Thomas Wall.
Life was easier when my friend and colleague Chris Marella (4th Shift Fitness) was studying for the Lt’s examination. He was quiet then. Distracted with studying. Dare I say…. docile???
Things are different now. His mind never stops running and I receive almost daily messages about things we should be doing. A few weeks ago, is a good example. Within a few hundred texts and 15 minutes we’d brainstormed an initiative to help bring awareness to the plight of Firefighter and EMS suicide.
If you’re a civilian, you probably don’t know and even if you’re a firefighter, you might not know this: more firefighters die each year by their own hand than by all other line of duty deaths (LODDs) combined. So far in 2019, 98 firefighters and 16 EMS personnel have taken their lives.
This is heartbreaking as these individuals pledged an oath to protect the lives and property of the civilians they serve. But who is watching out for these men and woman?
#DevoteDecember is a month dedicated to honoring those who have taken their own lives and to bringing awareness to the ongoing risk of Fire and EMS suicide.
During December, Chris and I will be cleverly integrating the number 114 into our own training sessions. We strongly believe that everyone should be following a program for their training, so we will NOT be providing workouts of the day (WODs). We challenge every one of you to also honor the 114 by integrating it into your own training. You might finish your session with 114 jump rope reps. Or climb 114 floors on the step mill. Maybe you’ll meditate for 114 seconds prior to commencing your session? Maybe you’ll ride 114 miles on your road bike at some point during the month.
Whatever you do, we’d love to hear about it. Our main platform is Instagram, but we’ll also be posting to Facebook. When you complete your 114, please tag both of us and use the hashtag #DevoteDecember. Information on our accounts will appear at the very end of this blog.
We also regret to inform you that the number will likely climb. We follow the suicides validated by the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance and will update the number accordingly. You should know that the stats are likely under-reported by around 40%.
Want to do more?
1) Reach out to your friends and family that are Firefighters or EMS personnel. Let them know that you care and stand ready to support them. During gatherings, avoid asking “what’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” and instead ask “what is the best part about your job?” or “what is the coolest thing that’s happened to you this year?”
2) Share this initiative with at least one person. Both Chris and I have IGTV stories on Instagram and videos on Facebook that you can share to your feed or your story. Will you challenge yourself to share with at least one other person?
3) Mental health is closely tied to physical health, so as much as we appreciate you dropping off cookies, cakes and other baked goods, just know that every other person in town has done the same. If you want to express gratitude, a card or a smile is enough. If you feel you must bring something, make it a healthy option such as a veggie tray or fruit basket. We put our lives in danger every day, but one of the most dangerous places for us is the roadway. Driving with extreme caution around accident scenes is far more appreciated than a plate of cookies.
4) Sign up for the 2nd Annual Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Symposium to be held February 20 and 21st in Naperville Illinois. There, you’ll hear national and international speakers (including AZ and Chris) speak about firefighter mental health, suicide and ways to address the issue. You can sign up at https://www.ilffps.org/symposium/
Chris and I are standing shoulder to shoulder to erase the stigma of asking for mental health assistance and to dedicating this month to the fallen. Will you stand and fight with us?
The following story was shared with the permission of Lori Moore, wife of Captain Chris Moore of the Chesapeake Fire Department:
“So where do I begin. How much should be said, how much should be unsaid? Do you make it so raw that it hurts or do you soften the blow? How much truth do you put out there because not only are you reading this, but my spouse is too and some of these feelings he is not aware of until now.
PTSD in the First Responder world is real and the life
stories should be told. It may help another spouse/family see the signs earlier
and get the help sooner. Stay strong, be
the support they need, even if they don’t say they need it because they do need
I guess I should start at the beginning. My name is Lori Moore and I have been with my
Firefighter Husband, Captain Christopher Moore for 18 years – 15 of it
married. We have one son who is 14 and
yes, this has affected him also.
My life with Chris has always been the firefighting
world. When I met him he was in
paramedic school and getting ready to graduate the fire academy. Together we know no other life.
A nice offering that the Fire Department family we are a
part of had at that time was a “class” for new spouses/significant others to
let you know what to expect in this line of work. This was done by the spouses on their own
time. Anything that can go wrong at home
will go wrong and will happen when they are at the station. The kids will get sick, something will break;
there will be a family emergency, etc.
You are on your own; you have to deal with the situation yourself. Your firefighter can’t just leave work like
the regular 9-5 world to come home. You
have to be the independent person who can handle these situations.
What they didn’t tell us was what can happen to your
firefighter the longer they are in the department. They don’t tell you what their spouses see
and deal with; how it affects them and the family. Because who wants to admit there are problems
at home? There is no blame or fingers
pointed at anyone for not telling us. It
was not a big issue years ago that we could see and no one gave it a second
thought. It’s looked at as that is part
of the job. But looking back at things,
would you want someone to tell you that there could be issues down the road and
that your marriage will be tested like never before? Would you go running out the door and say
“I’m out”? Brushing the issues under the
rug is not part of the job and it’s time for a change.
Superman/Superwoman – the stigma that is attached to first
responders. You run into burning
buildings, you save lives every day; but who is there to save you when you need
it. No one wants to talk about how you
feel after a really bad call and you certainly don’t want to talk about it at home. When asked how work was, the standard answer
I got 99% of the time was “It was busy”.
No details and after this many years together, I know I won’t get any
other answer. But I could and can still see
it in his eyes that it was more than just “busy”.
The stigma needs to change.
Yes, to me and many others you are a Super Hero but you are also human
with a caring compassionate heart that has feelings and does break at
times. And you should be able to break
with your peers around you to help put the pieces back together. This world is a brotherhood that supports
each other in so many other ways so you need your brothers when emotions
break. They understand it better than
anyone else as they live the same life.
I have to say again, PTSD in the First Responder world is
real and I’m living with a spouse who has it.
I can’t pinpoint when it exactly started but there are incidents that go
sometime back that probably were the very beginnings of the tangled web
starting to weave.
November 2005, my husband went to Cameron Parish, Louisiana
to help with recovery after Hurricane Rita hit.
He was gone for two weeks. I was
home with a 6 month old and the day after he left I got sick as a dog (perfect
example of what I mentioned above about it all goes wrong when they aren’t
home). Thankfully my in-laws live 10
minutes away and helped so I could get some rest and get better. The last day my husband was in Louisiana I
had to make the hardest phone call in my life to him; bad news – his father
passed away. It’s been 14 years and he
still carries the guilt of not being here when it happened. There was nothing he could have done had he
been home. His father passed in his
sleep. The web has started.
Fast forward about 8 years after that up to about a year or
so ago and the mood has changed in the house.
You think it’s just everyday life of being busy with work, a child who
plays sports almost non-stop, a firefighter who is not home every day and not
enough time in the day to get it all done.
The moodiness is there from both of you.
Fights start, fights end and start again and they are just nit-picky
fights over nothing at all. Divorce came
up a few times and once was very close to having a separation and there would
have been no turning back. We have
worked through many hard times because we love each other and are committed to
our relationship but to what extent do you keep going? I
can’t answer that yet since we keep on going to make it work. In sickness and health has a strong meaning
to us as we’ve been through numerous health issues over the years….this by far
being the hardest.
The “walking on egg shells” started a few years ago and you
tell them about it over numerous conversations/arguments…doesn’t go over well
either. It gets turned around on you and
it’s your fault. They hear it but don’t
“listen” because I don’t think they are ready to admit or realize there is a
problem. The tension in the house is
there and you just go along with that elephant in the room because you really
don’t know what the issue is yet. The
web is growing and spiraling into a deep dark place.
It gets to a point that you are always stressed and the only
time you feel relaxed is when they are at work.
You pray for overtime or maybe a conference they could attend so they
will be gone for a few days. A few days
of peace and quiet, a few moments to be relaxed. You become distant and not sure how to make
your way back to make it better.
Relationships change over the years and it will never be what it was in
the past but you hope to keep close to how it used to be. When so much hurt has happened and your heart
hardens, it’s hard to get back on that path and you wonder if it ever can or
will. The web is almost complete.
About 8 months ago, Chris finally realized he needed to get
help. He reached out to his former Battalion Chief to inquire about a
therapist, one who deals with First Responders and understands their line of
work. He has been going to counseling and
I have gone to an appointment with him and will go a few more times. Our son wants to go and the counselor is all
for it. He needs that opportunity to
talk about how he feels without any judgement.
We both need to learn how to help Chris get through this the best he can
and know he has the support at home.
Since really knowing what is going on with him, I’m glad he
is getting help but still have a somewhat high stress level. I see his mood at times and the wheels are
turning of old memories of calls that have affected him. You wonder will it ever stop and can they
handle it long term. Is there something
that is going to be the trigger that pushes them over the edge and will they
ask for help before that deep dark place shows up again?
Chris is involved in getting a Peer Support Group better
established in his department and it’s accepted with open arms to have this
program. He wants to help others since
he knows what it’s like. A few close
friends know his issue but he has yet to share within the department. He is working on an article himself that he
hopes to have published to shed more light on PTSD in the First Responder world. The cat will be out of the bag sooner or
later and it’s not a bad thing.
He has attended several conferences regarding Mental Health/Peer
Support and seeing what other fire departments are doing and it’s amazing. It’s wonderful to see that others take this
seriously and are helping each other out…..trying to lose the stigma, fighting
for each other to survive this. Slow and
steady wins the race.
I wrote this so that spouses can understand and see they are
not alone. It could be the help that you
needed to see to slow down or stop the spiral that has started. I also think it’s important to have a
spouse’s perspective on how we see it from our side and how we feel. We know it is not intentional and it can
become a very tangled web when we don’t catch it starting.
I purposely did not go into a lot of detail on the home life
because it’s not necessary to divulge all the dirty laundry and there really
isn’t much that was that bad. It was
more the moods in the house. I think the
point has gotten across without having to say too much. If you are dealing with
similar issues, you’ll get it. Marriage
isn’t always peaches ‘n cream but when you throw PTSD in the mix; the peaches
can rot a bit quicker.
To me, it is also important to state – Do not judge a book
by its cover – what you see on the outside may not be what is on the
inside. Chris and I have a very good
marriage and I’m sure some that know us would be shocked to read this. They probably figure we all have the same
marriage issues and I’m sure we do to some extent but they don’t see this; they
don’t see the PTSD. They don’t see what
goes on behind closed doors; they only see the surface and see that “Chris and
Lori are good”. It’s not always the case
but 99% of the time, things are good. I
love my husband very much, more than I express to him or anyone. He is my rock and my best friend and I’d be
lost without him (he doesn’t think so, but I would be).
A lot of hurt has happened over the past few years on both
sides, healing has begun and it will take a long time for our world to get back
to normal – or what will be our normal. I’m ok with that. We are working on untangling the web and
So know you are not alone. There are many of us out here dealing with what you are dealing with and there is help out there. The internet is a wealth of good information for help. Please don’t be afraid to ask for it. Have the hard conversation with your spouse. You, your spouse, your family and marriage will thank you for it in the end.”
Lori was also a guest in Episode 43 of Jon Sanders’ The Fire Inside Podcast.