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Other Side of the Hero: Interview with Karen and Rico

Last week Jon Sanders, host of The Fire Inside Podcast interviewed co-producers of The Other Side of the Hero Karen Shopsowitz and Enrico Colantoni.  Karen and Rico recount their 5 year journey in the making of this extraordinary documentary.  Next week, we will hear more from Jon on what he will bring to next month’s symposium.  The screening of Hero will be on March 21st beginning at 6 pm – free to all attendees and a $10 donation from all others. This screening is open to family members of 1st responders, fire, police, dispatchers, recruits, and the general public who wish to take a peek into the lives of individuals after the uniform comes off.


Open up the link below to access The Fire Inside Podcast to listen to not only Karen and Rico, but Symposium speakers:

Tom Howard and Jeff Dill

Andy Perry

Wendy Lund

Annette Zapp

Chris Marella,

Jon Sanders

Jacqueline Toomey



ILLFPS Symposium Speaker Chris Marella

This week we hear from symposium speaker Chris Marella:



Tell our readers a little bit about your own journey

My journey in the fire service started in high school.  My brother was a part time firefighter for the Winfield Fire Protection District and got me involved in the explorer program.  After high school, I played two seasons of junior hockey while also working at Winfield and going to junior college.  It was a busy time in my life but I enjoyed the workload and I’ve been fortunate to continue to keep the pace high. From there I worked with Air Angels while going through paramedic school.  I also worked for PSI in Franklin Park, full-time in Alsip for a short stint.  and then full-time with the City of Elgin since 2008.  While in Elgin, I have worked as a strength and condition coach and personal trainer at LGN Performance, as well as being on the Health and Wellness Committee as the head of operations for the fire department.

Through my time in Elgin I have noticed a gap in the community and industry.  While many public fitness professionals are enthusiastic and well educated in fitness and training, there can be a great difference in the types of training that we as first responders need to have a long and healthy career, compared to the average person.  I created 4th Shift Fitness late in 2017 to fill that gap.  My mission with 4th Shift fitness is to educate and train fire service personnel to increase durability and decrease the potential for injuries and their associated costs.  By going to fire departments and using a combination of presentation and hands on, I can reach the front line of the fire service and help reduce the negative physical impacts of the job.

Give us a short summary about the topic you will be presenting at the symposium

My presentation at the symposium is titled The Road to Injury, and the Path Back.  We will be looking at how, as first responders, we get injured.  From on-scene, to weight room, to everyday life there are things we do and ways we move that contribute to injury.  The presentation focuses on what those things are, and how to get back from the injuries they cause.  The presentation includes plenty of physical cues as well as addressing the mental toll of injuries and rehab including managing expectations after injury.

Should someone attend your session, what is one take-away (they will learn) that can be implemented immediately?

The road to injury can be long and winding, as can the path back.  But there are several pit-stops along the way that we all pass through.  Aside from identifying the most common causes of injuries including a close look at back injuries, we will also be able to provide a wide-angle view of the impact of injuries.  Like any fire or ems scene, having that overall perspective of the evolving conditions can better prepare us to avoid danger, or give us the best chance of mitigating disaster.


ILFFPS Symposium Speaker Andy Perry

This week we hear from Symposium Speaker Andy Perry:


Andy Perry Headshot, ILFFPS Symposium 2019 Speaker


Tell our readers a little bit about your own journey

My name is Andy Perry.  I entered the fire service in 1991 as a volunteer firefighter in Marquette Heights, IL.  In 1993 I was hired by the City of Peoria, IL as a full time paid firefighter, where I still work as a Captain in suppression.  In 1998 I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of a fire that left me separated from my crew in the attic of a three-story multi-dwelling fire.  A flashover occurred on the main level and I was running low on air, the hose line I was manning had burned in half, and I had no means to radio for help.  I was ultimately led to safety by my Captain who had reentered the structure and directed me to a porch roof on the second floor.  For a better part of a year following this incident, I struggled mightily with depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress.  In the time since, my symptoms have improved, but finding appropriate help was difficult.  Resources were not as readily available as they are today, and the stigma of weakness was much greater then as well.  Becoming a part of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team (ILFFPS) opened my eyes to an ocean of help.  I discovered for the first time that I was not alone in the way I felt, I learned of many available resources for assistance, and I experienced the power of a conversation with my peers.

Give us a short summary about the topic you will be presenting at the symposium

At the symposium I will be making a presentation on how to construct a peer support team.  Topics discussed will include common barriers that other groups have run into in their attempts at creating similar groups.  Legal, confidentiality, and logistical aspects will be discussed at length.  An emphasis on how to maintain a team once its off and running will be addressed as well.

Should someone attend your session, what is one take-away (they will learn) that can be implemented immediately?

Participants in this session should be able to take away a general idea of how ILFFPS began and be provided with avenues to gain information on how to create their own team if they so desire.  For those in attendance that do not wish to start a team, the plentiful information presented will reinforce the value of the many outlets of assistance currently available to firefighters and paramedics in Illinois and throughout the country.

I look forward to meeting you in Oak Brook Il in March.

The Other Side of the Hero

In February of 2017, I had the privilege of viewing one of the first screenings of The Other Side of the Hero while attending/speaking at a peer support conference in Toronto.  This documentary is both an excellent educational tool and conversation starter for first responders, their families, and the public at-large whom we serve. I had the opportunity to speak with Co-Producer Enrico Colantoni and found that his passion and enthusiastic support of first responders extends far beyond the character he portrayed on television.   – Tim

The Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team is honored to announce that we will be hosting a screening of HERO at our symposium on March 21st, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel located in Oak Brook, Illinois. 

The following is the official press release and trailer for HERO:

The cost of heroism— independent documentary the Other Side of the Hero gets up close and personal with first responders A documentary is doing its part to let first responders know that it’s okay to talk about PTSD and other mental health issues. In fact, says Producer Enrico Colantoni, “It’s time to talk — and we want our documentary to help get this important conversation going.”

Actor Enrico Colantoni, who played Sgt. Greg Parker on the popular series, Flashpoint, produced the independent documentary The Other Side of the Hero with Canadian producer/director Karen Shopsowitz and producer Diana Warmé.  Colantoni is also known for his work on shows that include Veronica Mars, Person of Interest, Travellers, and Just Shoot Me.

In The Other Side of the Hero, we get to know first responders who have experienced the flip-side of what can happen when a hero discovers that they are not emotionally immune to all that they deal with during their on-duty time.

Since its release, the documentary has been screened to many first responder groups in Canada and in several festivals, including DocUTAH, the New York Mental Health Film Festival, and YoFiFest (Yonkers, NY). The response from both the public and the first responder community has been inspiring. Notes one paramedic, “Watching HERO, I see different things all the time, hear things differently and see AHA moments that happen to the people in the film.” Adds this firefighter, “Just WOW!! As a first responder, this should be mandatory viewing.” The documentary focusses on paramedics, 911 dispatchers, police officers, and firefighters from across Canada and the United States, who talk about their experiences in intimate conversations with Colantoni. Joe Mantegna and Paget Brewster of the TV series Criminal Minds; David Eigenberg, Monica Raymund, and Eamonn Walker of Chicago Fire, and Alimi Ballard from Numb3rs are also featured in the film.  Says Enrico Colantoni, “Working as an actor who plays a cop cut close. My brother was a police officer for 30 years. The glamorization of the profession on screen is something that I recognize.”  When approached by fans who tell him they want to become a cop because of his show, Colantoni says, “You don’t want to be a cop, you want to be an actor!”

The Other Side of the Hero was produced with the support of the Rogers Telefund, The Canada Media Fund, the Ontario Media Development Corporation, CAVCO, and contributions from services and people all over the world through a successful Indiegogo campaign.

For more information, Shopsowitz can be reached at

This screening is free to all symposium attendees, and we are asking a donation of $10 from all others who wish to view this groundbreaking and informative documentary.


ILFFPS Symposium Speaker Wendy Lund

Today we will hear from Speaker Wendy Lund of Wellth Management

Sign up for the ILFFPS 2019 Symposium to see Wendy Lund’s session.

Tell our readers a little about your own journey

I graduated from as a RN when I was 19.  My clinical background largely was focused in the area of acute medicine and ICU.  

I began what would become a 32-year career as a professor at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario.  Academically I was situated in teaching the sciences (physiology and pathophysiology) firstly to nursing students, but the last 22 years devoted to the paramedic program where coordinating also became part of my academic portfolio.   Read More

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