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An Interview with Alison and Dane Fienning

In this installment of The Fire Inside Podcast, Jon Sanders interviews Symposium Speakers Alison and Dane Fienning

alison and dane fienning at the beach

This eager and passionate couple is focused on smashing the first responder mental health stigma. Alison is a LISW-S with a specialty in trauma/PTSD, and a former K9 SAR member. Alison also runs a successful private practice and online advising & consultation business that serves first responders and their families. Dane has 16 years of experience as a firefighter & paramedic. He has received several awards, including the 2017 City of Norwood Firefighter of the Year.  

They became stuck and were struggling after a friend and mentor died by suicide in 2017. They became devoted to helping themselves out of the dark ashes through their unique backgrounds. They became IAFF-certified peer supporters and created the online community for first responders and their spouses called Triumph Over Trauma. 

Alison or Dane can be reached by email at adfienning@gmail.com, or visit alisonfienning.com. Alison is available for private advising or consultations & can be reached at 513-520-2532.  

An Interview with Dr. Deb Lindh

In this episode of the Fire Inside Podcast, Jon interviews Symposium speaker Dr. Deb Lindh

Dr. Deb Lindh (Dr. Deb) is a PTSD Survivor-Warrior, Amazon Best Selling Author, Award-Winning Scholar Practitioner, and founder of the global Twitter Chat #PTSDandBeyond and the podcast PTSD and Beyond which were both launched to provide advocacy, support, and resources as well as hope, inspiration, education, and empowerment to everyone affected by and with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Deb’s contributions to Post-Traumatic Stress Recovery stems from sharing her story, experiences, and medication-free recovery with surviving narcissistic child abuse.

While earning her doctorate, Dr. Deb focused her studies and committed to helping herself overcome the many symptoms of PTSD – all without medication; using herself as the guinea pig and experiment all the while acting as the researcher, scientist, innovator, and client. The result is Dr. Deb created evidence-based interventions, practical techniques, and a company, Mindful Effect, where she teaches these techniques and interventions for people to develop skills and be self-reliant in managing PTSD.

Dr. Deb has been inspiring global audiences for over twenty years on innovation, success, stress management, PTSD, and mindfulness. Dr. Deb has received many awards and is globally recognized for her pioneering contributions from organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PsychCentral’s Top 21 to Follow on Twitter, University of Arizona School ofMedicine, American Psychological Association, and Working Mother Media.

An Interview with Dr. Charles Allen

Happy New Year to all team members and readers of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team blog. In advance of our Symposium on February 20th and 21st, the next several blog posts will feature interviews of this year’s presenters courtesy of Jon Sanders who runs The Fire Inside Podcast. The link to the podcasts can be found below. Thanks to Jon for organizing this once again.

Charles G. Allen, Ph.D

Dr. Chuck has been in the mental health field since 1972. He retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2006, where he served as the Director of the Chronic Pain Clinic and Director of the PTSD Clinical Team. He serves on the Board of Advisors for Fire Service Psychology Association.

In 2018 at the 1st Annual Conference, he presented on “Developing Effective Performance Improvement Plans”. In 2019 at the 2nd Annual Conference, he presented on “Conflict and Anger Management in the Fire Station”. Also, in 2019, he presented at the Western Pacific Islands Association of Fire Chiefs in Guam on “Demystifying Psychology in the Fire Service”.

He started with South Metro Fire Rescue where he taught in their Officer’s Academy, was a member of the Peer Support Team and is currently an EAP consultant to Firefighters. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Visit: https://ccanda.org/

#DevoteDecember

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?

Annette

Instagram: @firesqfitness and @4th_Shift_Fitness

Facebook: Annette Marie and Chris Marella

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

IL Peer Support: 855-90-SUPPORT or https://www.ilffps.org/contact

Living with a Firefighter’s PTSD – A Wife’s Story

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 you.

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 moving forward.

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.