My name is Craig Bowden. I have been a FF/PM with the Troy Fire Department since 2010. I started out as a volunteer in 2008 and part time in 2010. I wanted to be in the peer support program because it blended my two favorite subjects : the fire service and psychology. I enjoy listening to and helping people. I think that firefighters need a support network and talking to other firefighters is a great way to help out our fellow brothers and sisters of the fire service. This is a new concept and happy to be part if it. I am new to the fire service and think I could help others who are just getting into the fire service or older “new” firefighters helping adjust or just listening in general.
Hi! My name is JP Childers and I was born in 1976. I am an engineer and paramedic with Champaign FD and have been with them since 2005. Prior to CFD I worked as a paramedic and prison guard. I also served on my hometown fire department as a paid-on-call member for 10 years.
My interest in becoming a peer support team member has come from a desire to further serve my fellow emergency responders. The desire to help in this area has been created from several tough, life changing events that I have survived. In addition to the “normal” fire service experiences that most firefighters have to endure, I, and the rest of my department, lost a beloved co-worker to suicide. He was my lieutenant during my probationary year. I distinctly remember thinking when I saw him that he needed some help, but I didn’t know what to do or how to approach him. In the end, I feel like I did nothing to help him. Time has helped me to understand that there may not have even been anything that I could have done to save him.
Other events involving substance abuse in my family have also made it more difficult to cope with the “on the job” events. I have found help, but there are many others who have not. I remember how hard it was for me to seek help and I do not want others to have to endure these things alone. There is a better way. If I can be a part of the better way, then that is what I want to do.
I began my fire service career in 1989 as a Firefighter/Paramedic and have over 26 years of emergency response experience. I started on a private ambulance company based out of Chicago and sent myself through Medic school. I found an opening to pursue my dream by working as a contract paramedic as well as a Paid on call. That offered me the opportunity, to attend the Oak Lawn fire academy. I worked for the Westmont Fire Department, and eventually got hired full time with the Hinsdale Fire Department.
In that position I was involved beyond fire and EMS by being a HAZ-MAT tech, and was very involved in Technical Rescue. In addition I had the pleasure of teaching at different fire academies. As you can read I lived Fire/EMS 24/7.
Personally I got married and have two wonderful kids, the house, etc. It was a good life but I lost it. I fell down real hard and fast. I hurt myself, and my two families (home and FD). This occurred around 2007. This program did not exist, and neither I nor my department had anyone at peer level (or above) to talk to.
Now thanks to this team we do! It took me seven years of physciatric care, hospitalization, meds, and more aggressive care to be able to function again. I was always a “blue” shirt and a medic so I have always wanted to help those in need. The hardest one to help was me.
So you can see you’re not alone! While the details of the stories may vary, the pain doesn’t. I hope to break the stigma associated with mental illness, and that PTSD is a real danger in our job, as is falling off of a roof or blowing your back out. I’ll be here if you want to talk.
I am currently working as a firefighter/paramedic with the Village of Bolingbrook. I have been in the fire service for 16 years now. I also work at the College of Dupage teaching an EMTB course. I worked with a great group of firefighters to help develop the Illinois Peer Support team. I went through some personal struggles in dealing with a divorce and becoming a single mother. Post-divorce life can be challenging and very busy. The last few years have given me a different perspective and outlook on life. These experiences and changes drew me to the work that was being done with peer support.
I really believe in the work that we are doing and the message being shares with area fire departments. I am honored to be a part of this program. I am excited to see a positive change in the fire service where firefighter wellness is becoming a priority.
Brad Carter – Program Coordinator: I am a career firefighter with the Orland Fire Protection District where he has worked since 1997. His fire career started in 1992 as a POC firefighter in Homewood IL. Since then, the fire service has undergone huge changes. Brad is excited to be part of the Peer Support program. He is one of the members of this dedicated group who has taken the time to learn to help others. Through his peer support training and formal education in the mental health field he is prepared to listen to someone in need and to try to help lighten any burden they may be carrying. We have all had those bad calls or exposure to events that have changed us. It is his goal, as a Peer Supporter, to help those who are having a hard time with these events. He looks forward to being of service those who need it.
Brad is a recently divorced father of two children and four stepchildren. In his spare time he enjoys restoring antique cars.
I am Bob Davis and I began my career in the fire service in 1989. The experiences I have are many and it affected my life personally and professionally. My way of dealing with things were to tough it out and keep to myself my true feelings and problems. My solution to my problems led me to some unhealthy behaviors and It eventually became the norm for me. Over time my solution wasn’t working any more and things just got worse. I was very close to loosing everything personally and professionally when I finally found the strength to ask for help. I found for me there is another way to deal with things that are truly important to me and that is with talking to another person with similar experiences. I think the Peer Support offered is a great first step in dealing with and working out the issues which are common to Firefighters. It is an anonymous program and everything talked about stays private. I am happy to be a part of the Peer Support Team and if you would ever like to reach out to someone, maybe I can help.
My name is Doug Deadmond and I am currently a Captain with the Collinsville Fire Department. I have been with Collinsville for over seventeen years, and have over twenty five years in the fire service.
I am married to my wife Stacy and we have 3 children – Bryan 15, Andrew 10, & Andrea 10. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with family, hunting, fishing, etc.
Several years ago I had experienced multiple bad shifts where fatalities and serious traumas occurred with regularity. I had experienced bad situations in the past, but never in such a short time frame. I found it impossible to go to work without the fear of what I would have to deal with during the shift. I was able to return to work after seeking help through counseling.
I joined ILFFPS to help fellow firefighters who may be going through a tough stage in their lives. I am willing to listen to anybody and offer assistance as needed.
My name is John Dempsey and I have spent 20+ years with the Rockford Fire Department. I moved through the ranks, holding every position and currently hold the rank of Captain.
The reason I chose to work in the Fire Service is because I wanted to help people. I am a cancer survivor and have a positive outlook on life. I have been married since 2003 and my wife and I are child free. I jumped at the chance to be part of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team. I cannot think of a better way to give back than to help those people who have dedicated their lives to helping others.
My name is Marc Doty and I have been an ILFFPS Team Member since April of 2014. I joined the fire service in 1989 serving as a volunteer firefighter for Earlville Fire Department. I was hired as a full-time firefighter for the City of Sycamore in 1993. I was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008 and appointed Asst. Chief in 2010. I am involved with EMS, fire training, fire investigations, pension board, Mabas 6 Executive Board and Filo Officer.
I joined the ILFFPS team after dealing with some personal issues of my own. While experiencing some pretty complex problems I found having someone you can talk to in a confidential setting greatly helped. Serving as a peer support team member allows me to give back and help others who may be where I was before seeking therapy. I have experience in divorce, combined families, custodial and guardianship parenting, adolescent self harm and behavior issues, financial, bereavement, business and Fire Dept management, and professional stress.
Hello, my name is Rhonda Foster and I am a Firefighter/Paramedic for the City of Urbana Fire Dept. I am 37 years old and have two amazing children, Emma (3) and Max (13wks). I am married to an amazing man who is a retired firefighter and now works for a large construction group performing safety. I have been in the fire service since 2000 and have been with Urbana since 2006. I am also a member of our MABAS Division Tech Rescue Team and help respond as a Hazmat Tech for Champaign’s Team. I own a business where I conduct safety audits for large industry along with teaching hazmat response, confined space rescue and CPR/First Aid. I love spending time with my family, going to church and working out. I am proud to be a part of this team and I am eager to help reach out to those in need.
My name is Mike Fox and I currently live in Hoffman Estates with my wife. We have two kids that are now off on their own and both very successful. I am one of the coordinators of the NIPSTA Fire Academy which is a regional fire academy in Glenview, Illinois that has graduated close to 500 candidates from various departments since 2009. At NIPSTA we have come to realize that the foundation for health and wellness in the Fire Service has to start at the academy level. We have the opportunity to teach our young men and women about what lies ahead of them so that they can have a successful Fire Service career. This job does have a dark side and it’s essential that peer support and counseling be available anytime one of our own feels they need it. After a 26 year career with the North Maine Fire Department I retired in 2013 as a District Chief. I faced several challenges and obstacles in my career including the passing of our own son at 18 years of age and a suicide from an active duty firefighter. Several other calls over the years helped to define me. I only wish that I had the resources that are available today back when I needed them. As a retired firefighter I have had the chance to look at the Fire Service from a different vantage point. Time on the job makes you realize we are not superheroes nor are we bullet proof. We all hurt, we all grieve; we all need healthy outlets. I joined ILFFPS to help the young kids just starting, the guys and gals working today and the retirees that still carry memories they were never able to talk about. It’s very important for everyone to remember we aren’t alone. Help is closer than you think. Don’t hesitate.
My name is Kelly Gitzke and I have been a career firefighter/paramedic since 2001 with the Huntley Fire Protection District. I have been an acting lieutenant for my shift for the last 6 years. I teach CPR, ACLS, PALS, and currently I am a member of our TEMS Team. I live in Cary, Illinois with my husband Bill of 14 years, and our 5 children. I also work part time as a RN at Good Shepherd Hospital. With such a busy life at home and at work, I find relief in having a strong network of brother and sister firefighters that I can always count on to listen or to lend a hand. There have been many times when I feel overwhelmed and unsupported, but through networking and communication, I realize I am so fortunate to have an amazing career and such a supportive family always looking out for me. I gain my strength from my family, my friends and through thought and prayer. I am honored to be an Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team Member and I look forward to educating others on the importance of peer support
I am Robin Gorsline and I am a Battalion Chief with the Freeport Fire Department. I have been with the Department for 27 years and nearing retirement. I have been a peer supporter since spring of 2014. I have seen several occasions where incorrect or no action was taken when a firefighter needed help and that is why I am excited to have a resource like peer support available to us.
I have been involved in EMS since 2006 and the Fire Service since 2007. In 2011, I had to provide patient care to my stepfather after a severe accident he was involved in and he ultimately passed away due to the injuries he sustained. Nearly 6 months to the day of this accident, I was the first person to find a retired member of the same department who had just gone into cardiac arrest at the fire station. Unfortunately, he also ended up passing away. My department had very little in place to deal with these types of events and it was at this point I realized this was too much for me to handle on my own. After talking with a Chief Officer I was close with, I was made aware of an area firefighter who offered professional counseling services. Having the chance to speak with someone who understands what a firefighter goes through proved to be invaluable to me. Had I not found these resources when I did, I would have likely walked away from my dream job and ambition of becoming a career firefighter.
In 2013, I finally reached my goal of becoming a career firefighter; but it was not what I thought my dream job would be like. I quickly realized it was not where I wanted to be and was by far the most miserable few months of my life. Fortunately, later that year I had the opportunity to leave that department for a department where I felt at home from day one. There has not been one day that I’ve regretted that decision. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work with two amazing departments who truly understand the meaning of brotherhood, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a peer supporter. I feel as though I can relate to someone who may have gone through similar events, and had ILFFPS existed at the time I needed it most, I would have taken advantage of it and the resources it provides.
Thank you for taking the time to look into Peer Support and taking the first steps to creating a healthier, better you. My name is David Hoppe and I have been in the Fire and EMS services since 1997 (18 years). I began my career as a Paid on Call (POC) for six years while I studied Sports Medicine before getting hired as a career firefighter. I currently work as a Firefighter/Paramedic for Elk Grove Village, as well as a Lead EMS instructor for Triton College. I am active with working at the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance Burn Camp with children that are burned survivors. Unfortunately I have been affected by firefighter suicide, cancer, and fatalities. I have learned that the tragedies we see and face affect more than just the individual in direct contact of the emergency. Through Peer Support, I have found that there are many who have gone through many of the same things that I have gone through. I have learned that I am not alone in the feelings I have due to the service we provide. I have also learned that conversation with peers can provide emotional and mental first aid. I look forward to talking or meeting those that feel they are alone because the truth is, WE ARE NOT, YOU ARE NOT.
Hi my name is Pat Kenny and I have been a member of the fire service for over
33 years. I worked at the Hinsdale Fire Department for 24 years working my way up to Chief. I currently serve as the Fire Chief in Western Springs. I am member of the Illinois Fire Chief’s and a past president. I have articles published in the areas of leadership, fire safety, mental health and fire code challenges. Most importantly I have experience with family members with mental health challenges and suicide including my son Sean. My experience in both a full-time and combination department I think helps me to understand some challenges unique to both.
I am currently the Division Chief of Administration and Fire Prevention for the Rockford Fire Department in Rockford, Illinois. I am responsible for planning, budgeting, and administrative functions. In addition, I am also responsible for fire investigation, code enforcement, and all community risk reduction activities.
Throughout my career, like everyone else, I have seen and experienced many things that maybe in hindsight, I really wish I hadn’t. I know that my strong and supportive family and friends have helped to adjust after these experiences. I also know that sometimes people just need a little more support and that is what the Illinois Firefighters Support is all about. It is amazing how something as simple as talking about a problem can help gain a better understanding and perspective on the issue.
If you have any questions, or just need to talk, feel free to contact me or any of the other Peer Supporters. It will make a world of difference.
Ryan is a firefighter/paramedic in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. He began his career in the fire service as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in Bloomington, Indiana while attending Indiana University. Ryan has been full time with the Rolling Meadows Fire Department for 8 years and truly considers his career a privilege, especially when it comes to the interpersonal relationships he has developed with coworkers, patients, and others. Ryan operates under the philosophy of “us, them, it” in the firehouse, on the fire ground, and in life. Ryan relates well to others and is eager to work with individuals experiencing issues both in their personal and professional lives. Ryan is a proud father of two beautiful daughters and his happily married to his wife, Megan.
My name is Kyle Matousek and I have been in the fire service since 2010. Before that I served 4.5 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. I am married to my wife Nikki and have one kid (so far), my little girl Adaline. I also have a lengthy background in physical wellness/strength and conditioning. I have finished my Bachelors Degree in Fire Service Management through SIU in 2015. There were a course of events that has led me to this point and wanting to help the fire service break the stigma and realize we are all people who have emotions and feelings. The fire service has failed, I know this because of the experiences I have been a part of and the experiences I have seen. My thought is that we need to start taking care of the most valuable asset on any department “the human behind the badge.”
My name is Scott Moran and I am a Lieutenant with the Homewood Fire Department. I have been married to my wife Tammy since May of 1992. We are both proud of our daughter Kate who is studying at ISU and our son Kevin who is a senior in high school and a police cadet.
I was hired full time in Homewood in 1991 and promoted to Lieutenant in 2005. Prior to that I was a paid on call firefighter in Justice starting in 1986 and Willow Springs starting in 1987. I have held many positions at the Homewood Fire Department including Fire Prevention / Public Education Coordinator, Emergency Medical Services Coordinator, and currently the Training Coordinator.
In addition I am also the Secretary of our Pension Board and the Secretary/Treasurer for IAFF Local 3656, a position that I have held since 1995 when our local was founded. In the past I was fortunate enough to also serve as the Northern District Trustee for the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois
I am here to help because on March 30, 2010 I was the IC of a fire that resulted in the LODD of Brian Carey. Having gone through that changed who I am. Through this I was fortunate enough to have some tremendous friends who were there for me from the beginning, and who are still here for me today. Their help and guidance has played such an important role to me in dealing with the events of that night.
It’s because of those people that helped me that lead me here today. The ability to talk to someone without judgment was such a relief that I wanted to be able to do that for someone else. To help with that burden and be able to listen to them and their story, and maybe in some small way provide just a little bit of relief for them, would not begin to repay what I owe, but would certainly be a start. I know it has made a difference in my life and hopefully I can be of service for someone who could also use that.
My Name is Tammey Morris. I have been in the Fire Service since 1992. Beginning with a Private Ambulance Service, PSI Contract Paramedic (1992-94), POC in Batavia (1995-99) and a Full-Time Career Firefighter/Paramedic for Naperville Fire Department) 1995-Present). I worked for 10 Years as a Juvenile Fire setter Specialist working with children 7-17 and their families. I am a certified IAFF/ACE Peer Fitness Trainer (2006-Present) working with all Health, Wellness and Fitness challenges Firefighter encounter. Personally, I am a single mother with two teenagers (girl & boy). I was with and married a Firefighter for 13 years and understand the dynamics of a firefighter family. I also went through a lengthy and complicated divorce including child support and custody issues. Being a 5’3 125lb Female Firefighter has given me the opportunity to mentor, educate and give insight to all types of female and male firefighters. Including females interested or have concerns about the fire service, other male firefighters that are skeptical, concerned or uncomfortable working with a female, and officers or senior staff that have questions or issues. I am not pro female or male, but realistic to the job and after given the education, training and skills it still might not be for everyone. Medical challenges include asthma, age 14 was in a coma for two weeks and learned how to eat, talk and walk again; I had an ulcer that perforated resulting in exploratory surgery and lastly a severe car accident resulting in several plastic surgeries to my face. The point to sharing helps validate the life struggles I overcame to became a stronger, focused, positive and driven person. I believe in hope, change, and the ability to reduce stressors through healing conversation. My life professionally and personally has taught me that I don’t walk in another person’s shoes; therefore I cannot and will not judge. I joined the ILFFPST because I want to help other firefighters and their families. I want to provide a confidential, non-judgmental, comfortable setting. I promise to be a good listener and give supportive and appropriate assistance.
I am a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Rockford Fire Department. I joined the fire service in 2004 and have proudly served the City of Rockford since 2007. In my time in the fire service, I have experienced many tragedies in my personal and professional life. This has led me to join ILFFPS to help any brother or sister who may have hardships in their life, whether it be personal or professional. I am not ashamed to say that in my time of need, I was able to find the help that was much needed in the form of counseling with a mental health professional. This allowed me
to better myself with the work and effort that I, myself, put forth. This is not something we should ever have to deal with alone and we should never isolate ourselves from the ones that care and want to help. Please reach out in your time of need. because there is always a brother or sister that might be able to guide you down the right path with perspective and insight.
My name is Jason Rector and I am a firefighter with the City of Champaign Fire Department. I have 8 years in the Fire Service. I’m married and have one daughter. Like most firefighters I have dealt with my share of both fire department and personal tragedy and trauma. Firefighters are the first to help others in need, but the last to ask for help. This is something we need to change in the fire service. Having a group of trustworthy firefighters to talk with, who have been where you’ve been, is a resource you should take advantage of when needed. We have a problem in the fire service. More firefighters die every year from suicide than line of duty calls. If you need help or someone to talk to please call.
Tom Roate is a 21 year member of the Springfield Fire Department, IAFF Local #37. He has held every position within his local at some point in his career and has served as the AFFI Secretary Treasurer since 2006.
Tom has been happily married for 31 years to his wife Kim and has two daughters and one granddaughter. He joined the United States Air Force as a Fire Protection Specialist in 1983, serving 7 years active duty until finally finishing his military career with the 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, IL.
Tom states. “I am tired of watching our Brothers and Sisters self destruct right in front of our eyes!” He also believes that we all carry countless memories and stressors due to our jobs and while this may be unavoidable, how we cope with these issues is within our control.
He sought counseling after finally listening to family and friends and recognizing the strained relationships that use to be so easy. Tom is very proud of the path that he has taken and is always willing to lend a listening ear.
Hello my name is Frank Sanford from Baton Rouge, LA and have been in the Fire Service since 1981. I was 7 years as a Volunteer Firefighter before becoming Chief. The rest of my career has been as a full-time Firefighter with the Baton Rouge and St. George Fire Departments. I worked my way through the ranks and now hold the position of Asst. Chief on A-Shift. As a firefighter from the floor, I have encountered not only Department problems but personal crisis with my firefighters and their family members.
After 2 suicides in my family I decided to start working to find a solution to this problem we face in our society. It really hit home 3 years ago when I lost two of my fellow firefighters due to suicide. After this tragedy some of us had to reach out for help only to find none in our state just for firefighters. It was then I became involved with Dan DeGryse through the Chicago Fire Dept and he put me on the right track to get the training and help we as firefighters need to live well. I have gone through the National CISM training and the Illinois Fire Fighter Peer Support training and am now a member. I have also completed Suicide Awareness Training here in Louisiana. I am so happy this program is up and running and am in the process working here in Louisiana along with the State Police to bring a program of Peer Support and the Florian Program to Louisiana. Thanks and will continue to help anyone I possibly can.
My name is Michael Schnaper, and I am an Inspector/Investigator with the Rockford Fire Department. I have been in the Fire Service since 2003 and have experienced many challenging events on the job and in my personal life.
It is my belief that often we put an unfair burden on our families by expecting them to completely understand all the demands of a career within the Fire Service. We also may be selling ourselves short when they are not able to give us the help we need. I have joined the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team because I think it is important for Fire Service members to have someone to talk to who has experienced the same difficulties as they have and has the same perspective as they do.
My name is Rebecca Tyo, I have been working in the Fire Service since 2009 for the City of Rockford, Illinois. The Rockford Fire Department provides full time staff for fire suppression, life safety apparatus and ALS transport ambulance services. We serve a community of approximately 150,000 people over 64 square miles and in 2014 we had a total of 26,011 incidents requiring our response which was divided over 11 still territories. We are a busy Department and we definitely are exposed to a variety of calls.
Most of our emotions are dealt with at the kitchen table during coffee talk. Yet, some of the lingering effects of traumatic incidents we see can take a toll on our personal health, our relationships and ultimately our career. As I grow older and look back at some of the moments in my life (both personal and professional) where I depended on my peer’s the most, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. Having an individual who can relate to my situation and offer encouragement and emotional safety is often times a blessing. I would love the opportunity to provide that type of peer support to anyone of my brothers or sisters who is in need, no matter what the need.
I have been serving with the Sycamore Fire Department since August 2012. Prior to that, I served with the Des Plaines Fire Department for 27 years and the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District for nearly 4 years. I am a Field Staff Instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the Illinois Fire Chiefs and I teach the Fire Academy at NIPSTA.
I joined the Firefighter Peer Support Team in order to “give back” to the Illinois fire community that has given me so much for 35 years.
My name is Cody Carpenter and I currently serve as a FF/PM for the Normal Fire Department. I started out as a cadet at the age of 12 on my local volunteer department, where I am now a company officer. Prior to NFD, I worked as a paramedic for a private ambulance service in Champaign. I grew up and around the fire service and came to realize that I wanted this career forever. I joined the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support team, because in the fire service we are failing our brothers and sisters. We are afraid to talk about our emotions because we don’t want to be made fun of, but it is ok to feel; we are all humans.
I have dealt with many stressors and traumatic experiences. My first 6 months as a paramedic at the age of 20, I had 12 cardiac arrests 4 of those being pediatric arrests. It sucked, but I kept pushing on and on, I was superman and nothing could stop me, not even my emotions. 11/16/13 forever changed me, one of my good friends and someone I looked up to in the fire service was now in the back of my ambulance and I was ventilating him. He had inhalation and facial burns from a fire, he was trying to get the attention of the crew upstairs to tell them to get out, when he was overcome by smoke and fire. His life now laid in my hands… For weeks after that call I had nightmares, I was afraid to go to sleep because I knew what would happen. Finally, I broke and the right people where there and now I’m healing. The Lt. has made a full recovery and is now enjoying his life with his lovely wife and kids.
We have to make sure that our first family and second family are both taken care of. As FF/PMs we go and go and go until we break, but the fix is simple- just talk about it. My promise to you my brothers and sisters, is to be there for you no matter what; we are all a family and it is our job to ensure that we are taken care of!
Josh Jessup, hired by the City of Champaign in 2005, is an Apparatus Engineer and a member of Champaign Firefighter’s Local 1260. Josh began his career in the fire service in 1997 as a volunteer firefighter at Cornbelt Fire Protection District in Mahomet, Illinois where he lives and continues to serve as a volunteer firefighter in that community. Josh, like most emergency responders, has dealt with much tragedy and trauma over the years and has benefited from the support of his faith, family and peers along the way. Josh believes that being connected and having strong, meaningful relationships with his family and co-workers where you can be open, honest and vulnerable has made a tremendous difference in his life and career. Josh, married Amy in 2006, and they have three amazing children – Jack (2007), Liam (2009) and Emmalyn (2011). Josh and his family attend Mattis Avenue Free Methodist Church in Champaign and enjoy being in the sun and sand!
I am John Sardina and I hate the fire service; well, at least at one point I did. Let me explain.
My career started working for Superior Ambulance in 1994. I attended Loyola’s Paramedic program and worked for PSI, on a less than ideal contract until 2002. In 2002, I was hired by the City of Elgin as a career Firefighter/Paramedic and have been there ever since.
My story, at one time, was something different or so “out there” that no one would understand…I was very wrong- some people could. I had suicides of co-workers that were friends, and a phone call to the fire house with my mother on the other end telling me that my younger sister had just killed herself. To make a long story short…suicides, my pre-mature son tipping the scale at 2 pounds, a divorce/custody battle, drinking in excess, and 20 years’ worth of ambulance and fire responses that put me in a place that I care to forget.
So this brings me back to my first statement. Maybe I would have hated the fire service less then if the ILFFPS group was around 20 years ago. Not only has ILFFPS and therapy helped me continue to become more aware of and better deal with my struggles, it has also helped me understand the struggles of other firefighters as well. I guess we can say it is never too late for change. I mean, it is our experiences that form our thoughts and our Firefighter personalities. It is okay to need and want help and I will be the first to admit it. Now I continue to gain more tools to help others with their struggles as well as conquering the important steps for me to become better as a person and better as a Supporter.
Age 36 yr. Married (15 yr) one daughter 12yrFirefighter/Engineer/
Paramedic 10 years with Sioux Falls Fire RescueFull-time career firefighter, part-time work consist of teaching ACLS (advanced Cardiac life skills) and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Skills) at the local hospital. Will be teaching Peer support and Resiliency in the Fire Service this year to Paramedics and Fire departments.Passionate about Engine Company Operations/ EMS/ Physical fitness and nutrition as well as my Faith. Catholic since 2010.Hobbies: working out, fishing, cooking, gardening, playing guitar, playing tennis with daughter, reading and writing.Characteristics and Traits: very social, easy to get along with, strong empathy skills, as well as listening skills. Naturally a mentor to other firefighters informally at the station. I rely heavily on my faith and mentors to stay mentally strong in this challenging profession.
My name is Bob Schultz. I have been married to my wife, Karen, since 2003. In 2013, Karen and I adopted two special needs children Tyler and Sarah, then 13 and 12 respectively. I am on the City of South Beloit (IL) Fire Department, becoming a member in 2001 as a firefighter and paramedic working my way to the rank of Lieutenant. I am also currently a contract paramedic with ATS medical staffing, stationed in Durand IL since 2006.
In my off time I enjoy spending time at home with my family, our two horses, two dogs, chickens and cat. I also enjoy spending time with friends, fishing, hunting, and playing golf.
I joined the fire service as a way to give back to my community and help others. As a team member of Illinois Firefighter Peer Support, I want to give back to other members of the fire service by being someone they can talk to who will be caring, compassionate, and who understands the variety of challenges being a first responder can present.
Hello, my name is Joshua Way. I have been a peer coordinator for a short while and a peer supporter since spring 2015. Prior to that I had been a part of the fire service on and off for 10 years. I have served as a volunteer, paid on call, and a full time firefighter. I have done many different things through and because of the fire/emergency service, even working on a private ambulance and as an EMT at a dirt bike track, and a water park. I was the maintenance coordinator for the full time department, overseeing the maintenance of the fleet of 14 vehicles and the stations, as well as assisting the maintenance officer of the volunteer company of 12 vehicles. I have obtained over 25 certificates, awards and other notorieties throughout my tenor as a firefighter. While I am currently not on a fire department, I still have many connections throughout the fire service. I am an active EMT, have taken and passed the paramedic class, and am working on my Fire Officer 1. In my personal life I have 3 kids and my wife who I adore. We have struggled financially through the years, losing a good job and having our income cut in half because of that, but we are pulling through it together. With my experience at Rosecrance, you can be assured of a non-judgmental conversation with me and the confidence that I will assist in any way I can find or obtain further information for your situation. Being a Peer coordinator for the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support is one of my greatest honors to me.
I have been with Alsip Fire Department since 1995. In my current role I serve as an LT/PM along with the duties of EMS Coordinator. In the winter of 1998, a fellow firefighter and friend whom I worked with for over three years, committed suicide on my watch (his own shift). At that time, I participated in one Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and was returned to duty three days later. Over the past 16 years, I unknowingly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The signs were there, but I could never put a name to it until old feelings were recently resurrected. If you contact me, I will share with you how I am working through this experience via holistic means and professional counseling. However, my main objective will be to listen to and serve your needs.
My goal as a peer supporter is to reach out to any brother and sister firefighter and lend a helping hand, but especially those who feel they suffer from PTSD. I am proud to be a part of this fine organization and implore anyone to whom this website presents to contact either myself, or any of the other peer supporters whose background may resonate with your current needs. There is no reason for any of us to repress our feelings and suffer in silence. I leave you with this inspirational quote that was handed to me recently as good karma:
” And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
– Anais Nin
My name is James Graham Jr. and I have been with the Rockford Fire Department since 1997. I currently hold the position of Driver Engineer, and I am an ordained minister. In my life, I have had to deal with five family members deaths in a period of 18 months of each other. I have some history in dealing with people with drugs and alcohol abuse in my family as well dealing with my own alcohol abuse. Depression and anxiety are issues I have dealt with because I felt I needed to be perfect for everyone else. In my many years with the Rockford Fire Department, I have had injuries both physically and mentally. Seeking out emotional help during my times of trouble, was the best thing I could have done for myself. Having someone there to talk to who understood my situation and was willing to listen was the best medication I could have received. I pray that I can somehow extend the same kind of support to someone else in their time of need.
I started my career with the fire service in 2004 as a firefighter/EMT-B with the City of Satellite Beach. While working in Florida, I married Jackie and we had two children and decided to move back to Illinois to be closer to family. I have been with the Bloomington fire department since April of 2012 as a Firefighter/paramedic.
In December of 2013, my wife and I suffered the loss of our daughter, Hope. We were informed in the 12th week of our pregnancy that she had a birth defect called, anencephaly. Every coping mechanism I learned through the fire service failed me when it came to this. Keeping it all bottled in was no longer working. It took a lot of patience from my wife for me to finally be able to open up.
Currently, I am in my second year of college, seeking a degree in Biblical studies, and was recently ordained into my local church, Eastview in Normal, Illinois. My goal is to become BFD’s chaplain. I love my brother’s in the fire service and peer support gave me another opportunity to help those who are seeking.
Chaplain for Champaign/Urbana Fire and Police Departments and Senior Pastor of Trinity Community Fellowship, an EV Free Church in Farmer City, Illinois.
Hi, my name is Dave Ashby. I’m married to my wonderful wife, Janet and we have 3 children, all of whom are married as well as 9 grandchildren. I’ve been around the Fire Service all of my life. My father, Willard, was a career Firefighter in Champaign, working his way up through the ranks to become the Fire Chief in Champaign until his death in 1974. My sons, Mark and Mike, are both firefighters. Mark is a Lieutenant on the Urbana Fire Department and Mike is a Firefighter in Champaign. To be honest, one of the greatest privileges I have is being allowed to work with Firefighters and their families. I enjoy serving them, helping them and being available for them as they have need. I have been on countless emergency scenes, stood in emergency rooms and besides hospital beds to counsel, encourage and support scores of Firefighters and their family members. I am happy to be a part of ILFFPS to further be a part of a team that supports and encourages this privilege.
My name is Jeff Pokorney. I am a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Oswego Fire Protection District. I have been in EMS since 2004, starting as an EMT with a private ambulance service. Went on to Paramedic school and have been a Paramedic since 2006. I entered the fire service as a volunteer in 2007 for the local department where I also worked as a contract medic; was at the volunteer department from 2007-2012. I worked part-time for Romeoville Fire Department from 2008-2014. During that time I was hired full-time by Oswego Fire Protection District in 2009. I was working all three departments at the same time. So, my time away from the job to wind down was very minimal. I am also married to wife, Andrea; we have two kids, Ian 13 and Heidi 11.
Like a lot of people I have dealt with many different obstacles in life both personal and professional. There are several calls that stick with me, but my main issues are personal in nature. To keep it brief some issues I faced were: my sister having multiple suicide attempts as a teenager, my half-brother having a brain tumor, I had a drug and alcohol problem as a teenager along with legal issues and getting kicked out of school, and a friend committing suicide during this same time, several more friends’ deaths, my dad having serious health issues, and a close call at a fire.
I have a strong passion for Fire/EMS and doing my part to try and prevent suicides among first responders. This is what drove me to be a Peer Supporter. I have been on the other side of the fence. I found myself having a drinking problem, again, and was suicidal. I started to see a therapist who deals with firefighter behavioral health and after a couple of months I checked myself into Rosecrance in Nov. 2015 and was fortunate enough to stay in the Florian unit. Several Peer Supporters came to see and talk with me as well as a Pastor. This experience was a life-changing one for which I will be forever grateful. I am now taking courses to be a drug and addiction counselor and hopefully get to one day be a licensed counselor and work in firefighter behavioral health.
I have worked as a firefighter for 25 years and a paramedic for the past 18 years. I have worked as a volunteer, POC, part time and full time contract firefighter in my career. A lot of my experiences and struggles came from a fear of being labeled the weak female if I allowed any emotion to show as a firefighter, so I kept it all in till it was almost to late. I am a licensed professional counselor specializing in PTSD and vicarious trauma, with interests in suicidology. I currently hold a BS in Fire Science Management, MA in Forensic Psychology, MS in Criminal Social Justice and a Ph.D. in Community Psychology. I teach Psychology and Emergency Medical Technician courses at South Suburban College. My research areas include Exploring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Effects of Firefighters On and Off the Job and Stereotypes and Perceptions on Heroism. In the future, I plan to specialize in counseling services for firefighters and their families. I also have experience providing presentations and trainings to fire departments. My goal as a peer supporter is to be able to be there when someone needs to let it out whatever is bothering him or her before they wait too long.
My name is Bill Leddin and I am a Lieutenant/ Paramedic with the Orland Fire District. I started out in the fire service as a cadet and realized right away that this was my calling. I have been with the Orland Fire District for over 30 years. I currently work on second shift at our station 1 as the company officer on the tower ladder. In addition to shift work, I am the fire/arson team leader as well as the coordinator for the department’s CERT Team. I am also the arson investigator for The Village of Orland Hills Police Department, as well as the Village’s Emergency Manager. My wife, Debbie, and I have three daughters that have made us proud throughout the years. My oldest daughter, Lisa, is a manager at ATI. My middle daughter, Jennifer, is a police officer in Elwood, and my youngest daughter, Michelle, is a teacher in School District 135 in Orland. Like most of my peers, I have dealt with my share of bad calls involving children, car accidents, and suicide. Recently, my department had to deal with the tragic deaths of a firefighter off duty on his way to work and the suicide of a retired member. My wife has been dealing with MS for over 20 years and recently one of my daughters was just diagnosed with MS. Like many of my fellow firefighters, I did not realize that every bad call I had at work followed me home. It affected my family and I blamed them for everything that went wrong. I joined peer support in 2014 and was in the first class held in Bolingbrook. As I sat in class that first day, for the first time it hit me. My problems were not unique only to me and I was too busy helping everyone else’s family but neglecting my own. I wish this program was around when I started in the fire service. I originally joined peer support with the goal to help others however peer support ended up helping me.
My name is Megan O’Brien, I am a firefighter paramedic for the city of Granite City. I’ve been with this department for two years and really have found a passion and a love for the fire service. The camaraderie is second to none, I’ve found a second family and want to make sure they are taken care of. I am presently working towards a degree in clinical psychology. I really want to set up an office where I can help first responders, a place where they can feel safe and welcomed. We bear everyone’s problems but we don’t have to do it alone.
I am a single mother of a beautiful seven year old daughter who loves to keep me on my toes. I understand how stressful it is to try and balance out family life and career life. Going through my divorce was a rough time for me and took me awhile to be ok with the way my life was going.
I would be honored to take the time to speak with any firefighter who may be going through a rough patch; you aren’t alone, we’ve got your six.
I am a recently-retired (and progressive) United Methodist pastor with almost 20 years experience as a volunteer firefighter (Level II) and EMT-A, having served on three different departments in Central Illinois (Allen Township, Arcola, Dwight), where I experienced many things, both good and bad. I was the de-facto chaplain on all three departments, and have officially served as the chaplain for the Cornbelt Fire Department (Mahomet, IL, volunteer), and currently as chaplain of the Galesburg Fire Department (career). I have sought out training for this role, including certification as a CISD Team participant (and have been the recipient of that support myself), though I don’t believe that approach is very effective, preferring a more informal “diffusion” process.
With a foot in both volunteer and career worlds, I can speak to and support both. I consider myself a good (and trained) listener, and love my brothers and sisters in the fire service, whose challenges and struggles are unique. I also currently relate to retired firefighters, and am uniquely suited to listen and be supportive to those with faith-related issues.
Thank-you for checking out my profile! I am a career Lieutenant/Paramedic with over 25 years of experience in Emergency Services. I grew up in the Illinois Valley and started my career in the LaSalle/Peru area prior to getting hired at Lockport and moving to Joliet. I have worked as a volunteer, paid-on-call, contract, and/or private Firefighter/EMT-B/EMT-P prior to getting hired at Lockport. I have a very diverse background and I never forgot where I came from. Like some people in Emergency Services I have also lived a messy life. Recently I had to turn to the Peer Support Group myself and I can say that I am better today for making that phone call. If you are about to begin your journey with the Peer Support Group I wish you well. Maybe I’ll get the privilege to hear your story. Just keep in mind that you are not alone in your struggles. Reaching out to the Peer Support Group might just be the best hardest thing you’ve ever done!
Dena is a 9 year member of the Raleigh Fire Department. She also serves with Wake County EMS and was a police officer for 5 years before moving to the fire department. She has personally experienced the benefits of peer support and recognizes how critical it is to simply be heard and understood. Dena is also a graduate student and has spent the last couple of years researching firefighter behavioral health and learning methods to prevent firefighter suicides. Outside of work, Dena loves cycling both on the road and on trails. She is also a advocate for 555 fitness and enjoys crossfit. Dena is excited to be a member of the IlFFPS team and founding member of the North Carolina Triangle Peer Support which is based on the framework of the Illinois team.
Brian is a 9 year member of the Raleigh Fire Department. He moved from Illinois to Raleigh for the job in early 2008. During the Academy his wife decided she wanted a divorce. With no family, and now no wife, his fire academy class and his crews became his family. While his Fire Dept Family was a great source for support in life, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to discuss more serious issues. He had a rough time assimilating to Station Life and the sometimes less than busy days with a crew that he didn’t quite jive with. And when personal life started to affect professional life, he needed a trusted friend to vent to and he learned how critical this was in life and how helpful it is! That’s why Brian McGinnis is excited and proud to be a founding member of the North Carolina Triangle Area Peer Support Team.
Brian is now married to his soul mate and has two amazing children who are his life!
I was born in Chicago in 1969, and moved to Champaign-Urbana in 1987. Today, I volunteer as a Captain/EMT-B on the Carroll Fire Department. I began volunteering there in 1989 as a Firefighter/EMT-A for several years, then volunteered at the Edge-Scott Fire Department for several more, eventually completing EMT-I training. I was absolutely in love with the fire service. I also worked as a tech at a hospital in Urbana during this period, and had aspirations of landing a full-time Firefighter/EMT job. Various traumatic experiences and stressors piled up over time, though, and when I had a bad day involving an interpersonal conflict which really got to me, I stopped volunteering. I gave up on applying to full-time paid fire departments, too. Looking back on it later, I saw that my attitude had become pretty negative. I felt like I was done, and my heart was broken. I got some counseling years later, and I was surprised that the counselor seemed a bit shocked to hear the words coming out of my mouth. These bad experiences were following me around, and I believed I was just supposed to suck it up. Counseling was a very positive experience, and in truth, I never lost my love for the traditions, ideals, and brotherhood of the fire service. I returned to Carroll in 2011 and things have been going unexpectedly well this time around. I have also become a Trustee for the Central Illinois chapter of the F.O.O.L.S. I have the utmost respect and admiration for all the people who step up to serve their communities in public safety jobs, putting themselves in harm’s way to protect people. You can talk to us, confidentially and in safety. We’re listening.
Hi, I am Dan Campbell. I have been with the Lombard Fire Department for about 5 years now. I was hired at 20 years old by the Elburn Fire Department part time. Shortly after being hired in Elburn I was then hired by the South Elgin Fire Department. I was sponsored and went through the paramedic school process and then had tested 25 times before finally making it through the process of getting my first phone call for my full time job offer from Lombard. My ultimate goal had been met; I was now a full time paramedic/firefighter. This is when life started to take off and fly by. I married my high school sweetheart who I had started dating at 16 years old. We then started having kids. Within 3 years we had 3 kids. Now I have 3 beautiful children, an amazing wife, and our great golden retriever. I work a part time job doing sprinkler inspections when I’m not at the firehouse. Most people say I work too much, but my wife also stays home. I am a person who understands some of the most basic stressors of life such as work, family, and finances. I undertook a lot of responsibility as a teenager which has followed me into adulthood. There are many ways to manage all these things which I am willing to help others with. This is the reason I became a peer supporter. I hope to help others who become overwhelmed with any issues in life. Please feel free to contact me, Thanks Dan Campbell
Hey. My name is Dave. I am currently a Lt. with the Raleigh Fire Department. I have been with RFD for about 11 years. If you meet me you will instantly see that I know no strangers; only “friends” I haven’t met yet. I was drawn to Peer Support for several reasons. I love listening to other people’s stories about their lives and seeing how they relate to my own. I love helping my friends in any way that I can. Having faith as the bedrock of my life; I strive to show others grace, love, and truth. I am a husband and father of 3 children. I have experienced the “juggling” act and struggle that occurs with being a firefighter, husband, dad, and working on my days off. My goal of being part of this team/community/family is to share the HOPE that I have in my life. There is always HOPE.
Hi, Brothers and Sisters! My name is Travis Young and I am a firefighter with the Carbondale Fire Department. I started at CFD in 2016 and prior to that I spent 13 years as a paramedic with the Jackson County Ambulance Service. I am married to the love of my life, Lauren and together we have a 7 year old daughter, Isabella and 4 year old twin daughters, Savannah and Lillian. I am originally from Eastern Ohio but have found Southern Illinois to be my home.
I have always said that family comes first. With that being said, we need to take care of our second family, our brothers and sisters at the fire house. Over the course of our careers we will spend one third of our lives with them. We need to show them the same love and compassion that we do to our immediate family. My love for family made me want to become a peer supporter. I’m here when you need me. Help is just a phone call away.
My name is Michael Baruch. I attended the ILFFPS training class in Carbondale, Illinois held in February 2017. I am a retired firefighter/paramedic with 32 years of fire service experience (1975-2007). My entire career was with the Orland Fire Protection District. Due to total left shoulder replacement surgery, I retired with a disability pension. During my career, the OFPD transformed and grew from a single fire station with 50 Paid-On-Call firefighters to six fire stations with over 100 full-time personnel.
The need for day time firefighting personnel was the reason I joined the fire district. The district offered opportunities to attend EMT, Paramedic and Firefighter training. As the community grew, a second station was needed. Additional full-time personnel were needed and I applied and after testing, was hired on October 1st, 1980. During my career, I was assigned to the ambulance, engine, truck and rescue at 5 different stations. I was also a floating firefighter for some time.
During my 32 years with the OFPD, the crews I worked with responded to ambulance, rescue, fire and other situations. Some of the emergency incidents had multiple fatalities or other extremely stressful situations. During my career, I attended a number of stress debriefings provided by the fire district. Memories of some of the emergency calls still affect me.
Living nearest to my parents I became the primary care provider for my parents. My medical training and experience made caring for my parents easier. Both of them experienced life threatening illnesses which took their lives.
My life took a major downward turn on May 14, 2001. While participating in a training drill with the Western Springs Fire Department, my brother-in-law was fatally injured. He left behind a wife and two young children. My wife and I are the only aunt and uncle the children have. Throughout the years, being involved in their lives and providing love, humor and guidance has been very important to me. My guidance comes from what I learned from terrific parents. I also use the knowledge I learned from my favorite uncle, who also provided me a great source of love, humor and intelligence. My nephew and niece are college graduates and working on advanced degrees.
Even though I have been retired for nearly 10 years, I follow the stories of the fire service from the news media and the internet. It was very surprising and alarming to learn about the number of suicides fire personnel, both on-the-job and retired are experiencing. It hit home really hard when another retired firefighter from Orland Fire Protection District made the decision to end his life in 2016. He was the last guy you would ever expect to commit suicide. He was the “life of the party” and a decent human being. He took care of his mother also. There were many parts of our lives that were similar and this created our friendship. We talked about life, and the ups and downs of caring for an aging parent, and we laughed together. He considered me a “Brother” within the fire service. This was a title I take seriously and I am honored to be called.
I have become a member of the ILFFPS to provide my experience, knowledge and support to those fire personnel needing someone to talk with about issues that affect them. Not everyone can become first responders. This occupation takes a physical, mental and emotional toll of our lives. We all have the ability to self-destruct. This organization provides ears to listen, shoulders to lean on and guidance to support those in need.
Hi, I’m Dan Sullivan. I have been a full-time hospital chaplain since 1986 and a volunteer chaplain with the Westmont Fire Department since 2016. I retired as a part-time firefighter/paramedic at the end of 2015, after more than 28 years of service with the Downers Grove and Westmont Fire Departments. I’m married to a nurse and have 3 adult children, including a son who is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and a daughter who is a part-time firefighter/EMT. My dad was a volunteer firefighter. Prior to my marriage and hospital ministry, I served as an associate pastor at a Catholic parish. I have competed advanced training in critical incident stress management.
I really enjoyed my years wearing a blue shirt. I also experienced some of the unique stressors of the job, including trying to balance a fire service career and family life, then putting the blue shirt away for good. Life can be messy at times. We also have each other’s back. As a career chaplain and a person of faith, my calling is to support the people I encounter as they are, in whatever situation they find themselves at the time. I am honored to be part of ILFFPS.
My Name is Randy Grohler, I started my career in emergency services in 1988. I started in the fire service as a Junior Fire cadet in my high school days. I have served with several departments through my years from Greenville Fire Department, Williamson County Fire Protection District, West Frankfort Fire Deptartment, Johnson City Fire Department, and Zeigler Fire Department.At this time I serve with Lake Egypt Fire Protection District as Saftey Officer and Paramedic. I’m also a state certified Instructor in Fire and EMS. A father of 4 my time is full with a lot of adventure. Been married and divorced. I’m remarried now and loving life.
My name is Ralph Peeler, I’m 45 and just crossed 28 years in the fire service. I started as a senior in high school at 17 as part of a Junior Program, on a very progressive volunteer department. I was immediately hooked, and over a 15 year timespan, worked my way up to the rank of lieutenant. I was then hired full time at a small career department in the NW part of the state, where I have 13 years on.
I am a very easy-going individual, and am always up to lending an ear to someone in need, or going through similar circumstances that I have also had to hurdle. Stressful incidents, death in many unfriendly forms, rough marriages or relationships, and alcohol and substance abuse give us more of a beating than what we’d ever want to admit.
Thank you, and just remember, asking for help is this biggest step you’ll have to make… you’re not alone.
My name is Joe Cascio, and I retired as a Captain with the Rockford Fire Department in 2015 after serving 27 years. During my career, I was a Firefighter, Paramedic, ALS Preceptor, Public Safety Dive Instructor for MABAS 8 and a Lieutenant. Throughout these years, I responded to countless traumatic events, fires, accidents and medical calls. Without the support and encouragement of my fellow peers on the department, I would not be the person I am today.
Our positions as firefighters place us in vulnerable and dangerous environments. We see things in 24 hours that people may never see in their whole life. We make quick, decisive judgments in seconds and rely on our Brothers and Sisters of the service to protect us as we do them. Our safety is the number one priority so that we may save the people who need us most. By protecting ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally we will be able to serve our customers and return safely to our families with no ill effects.
Peer support is crucial to the well-being of ourselves and the relationships we garner in life. Traumatic events happen in our duties. Sometimes the stress is more than one can bear and that is why I volunteer as a Peer Supporter. If you are having problems with anxiety, flashbacks, family relationships or Opioid dependency please call and I will be there for you. Allow yourself to come home to your family without any baggage.
My name is Bill Hough and I am with the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District. I am currently a Battalion Chief and have been with the fire service for 29 years starting out as a paid on call Firefighter, Full time Firefighter, Paramedic, Lieutenant, Captain and now a Battalion Chief. I have been through a lot of changes in the fire service and seen a lot of things, some good and some bad. Same with my personal life, my son was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 14 and both my parents died of cancer. I have recently been through a divorce, had to move and financial difficulties which changed my life all around but I am making it through it slowly. I know what is like to feel alone with no one to talk to or understand what you are going through. I have great friends on the job but was still hard to talk about the divorce and everything that goes with it. I live in Crystal Lake and more than willing to listen and help out anyway I can.
I have been with the Peoria Fire Department since 1994. I currently hold the rank of Fire Suppression Captain on shift 2 (Black shift). I have also had the privilege over the years to have held leadership offices within Local 50 of the IAFF. Having seen our job through these multiple points of view, I can relate to most members’ perspectives on our profession.
My journey thus far has been rewarding, but certainly not without a few hiccups along the way. Stressors in my personal life along with job related issues have left me with some common feelings of doubt, fear, and anxiety that we all experience as humans. Other stressors have presented themselves to me along the way which have had a more profound negative impact on my life and career. However, with a great support network and additional assistance, I have been able to manage my way through.
For these reasons and many more, I was attracted to the ILFFPS so that I can give back, pass it forward, and spread the word to my brothers and sisters in the fire service that none of us needs to go it alone!
My name is Darrin Armstrong and I’m yet another imperfect person working in the perfect job. I am currently a career Engineer for the East Moline Fire Department as well as a POC Lieutenant with the Silvis Fire Department, serving both for over twelve years. I am very proud to serve two communities that I grew up in although I didn’t get into the fire service until I was in my early 30’s. I have always had a desire to help others and believe that many friends, family, and co-workers put their faith in me. Most of them know that I am a willing, caring, and compassionate individual, a role that I take very seriously. I have taken several roles and voluntary titles over the years because I thought I could do some good and believed that it was the right thing to do at the time. However, I’m probably guilty of taking on too much at once which certainly has an effect on my physical and mental well-being.
I believe that mental health issues are often misunderstood, undiagnosed, and looked down-upon in our society – certainly in roles that are often seen as tough and masculine such as the military, law enforcement, and of course the fire service. I have taken a great interest over the last six years as I have seen so many individuals close to me suffer through any number of mental health issues, including family, friends, and co-workers. This has certainly caused me to change my views on how we have been approaching damaging behavior, compensatory mechanisms, suicides, and life in general. I have a military son, a transgender son, a grandchild with leukemia, and apparently a family history of anxiety and depression. I lost a cousin to suicide and other family members to the effects of alcoholism. I overlooked all of these in the past and never considered underlying causes, and was brought up in the fire service to get tough on the rough calls, act tough when questioned about them, and talk tough back at the station – until the day ILFFPS came to town and I saw some of the most-hardened firefighters break down in front of me.
Everybody needs help sometimes, some more than others, but life is worth it.
My name is Eddie and I started in the fire service back in 2001 on my local department as a volunteer. Since 2007, I have been a firefighter/paramedic with the City of Joliet.
I am married to a wonderful wife and have 4 beautiful daughters, including twins. I enjoy taking everyone camping and teaching whenever I can.
I became interested in the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team after witnessing the difficulties some of my brothers and sisters experience and seeing how simply listening to them can help tremendously. I myself have struggled with the balance of fire house and family. I also have unfortunately seen the worst in life and know the weight that it bears.
I will always be here with a ear to listen.
I am Bill Nyhanna. I am 35 years old and married to my wonderful wife Nikki. We have two boys, Brady and Joey and currently reside in Munster, IN. I have been in the fire service for 15 years and currently work for the Oak Brook Fire Department as a Firefighter/Paramedic. I have also worked for the Crestwood Fire Department as a part-time Lieutenant and WESCOM as a 911 telecommunicator.
Like many others in the fire service, I have dealt with many things in both my career and personal life. I have experienced personal tragedy, tough calls, and stress from the time battle between work and family. Like most of us, I have always thought I was “fine”. Peer support or emotional awareness was something I never even thought about until a friend of mine experienced a pretty horrific off the job injury. After talking with him and seeing this “tough guy” suddenly deal with the emotional stress of over 20 years in the fire service, I realized that peer support was more important than I initially thought.
I now realize how important it is to not only think of ourselves as humans, but also those brothers and sisters around us that may seem “okay” from a distance. I joined the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team to help promote the importance of supporting our peers and to be there for anyone that may just need someone to talk to.
Hello! My name is Kevin Fox. I am a career Firefighter/Paramedic with the Belvidere Fire Department and part time with the Hampshire Fire Protection District. I have been in the service since 2004 starting as a part timer with other Fire Departments.
In 2017 I had the privilege to become part of the peer support team. The service along with our personal lives brings us all many positive and negative times. My self and every support member have been there at some point. Our support network is here and always available to listen and help. Please feel free to contact myself or any one of our members. Be safe.
My name is Steve Iovinelli and I retired from the Franklin Park Fire Department in September of 2015 after serving 35 years. During my tenure, I tested through all of the ranks and was appointed to the position of Chief in 2010. I also served as a paramedic my entire career. I became interested in becoming a part of the Peer Support Group after surviving a near fatal motorcycle accident in the fall of 2017.
First Responders are accustomed to having control and making split second decisions when it comes to the incidents we are dispatched to. When I ended up on the other side of an incident as a victim/survivor and choices were being made on my behalf, it affected me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
My goal is to be a part of the recovery process for those who may be struggling with identity issues due to a traumatic incident or life event.
My name is Mike Greenwood. I have been in the Fire Service since 2007. I currently service as a Paramedic, Hazat Tech, and work in Fire Investigations. In a prior life I served nine years with the U.S. Navy as a Fire Controlman and a Corrections Officer. My wife and I have been married for almost two decades and we have 3 boys. As a recent seminary graduate I spend my off days serving as a pastoral intern at my church.
In our careers our shifts are full of seeing some of the worst days in people’s lives. In addition to other people’s trauma our lives can unexpectedly be hit with some of the same things we see at work. Sometimes the bottom falls out after a thousand little stresses become unmanageable. In both my Navy and Fire Service careers I have seen individuals and families fall apart from the stress and tension between work and life. Unfortunately, I have also experienced the loss of a friend to suicide and know many on the job who have a similar story. I joined ILFFPS to give back and raise awareness. You are not alone.
My name is Jason Vaccaro, I have been a Firefighter/Paramedic for about 7 years. I worked as and EMT on the privates before becoming a firefighter. Currently I work at Frankfort Fire Protection District and truly love my job. I also am on the CART team and help out with training. There are many ups and downs in the fire service, good calls and bad, that we all experience at one point or another. There are also issues at home that we bring home from work or just occur in our daily lives. I joined the Illinois Fire Fighter Peer Support System because I know it works. I have used it twice in the past personally and had quick responses and great experiences that led me in the direction to a better life. I am a recovering alcoholic so I guess you can say I have experience with addiction. I also have some experience with mental health issues and relationship problems. If I can not help I definitely can listen and we can figure out the next step. I just want to pay forward the gift that was given to me. Everyone has problems in their lives and it is ok to talk to someone about them, and that is what I am hear for, to listen and hopefully help. You Are not alone.
My name is John Gritsuk, and those who have known of me for the past many years I worked in the Fire Service know that I prefer to go by my nickname of Ducky. I currently work as an Engineer/Paramedic with Frankfort Fire District since 2007. I am also an acting Lieutenant and Team Leader for Frankfort’s Technical Rescue Team. Even though I have been Full-time since 2007, my Fire Service career started back in 1997 at Troy Fire Protection District. From June of 1997 I had worked as a volunteer, part-time, and contract Firefighter/Paramedic for numerous suburban Departments and Fire Districts up to my Full-time employment with Frankfort Fire District. Shortly after getting hired at Frankfort I became part of the AFFI Honor Guard and Joined the Band of Brothers Pipes and Drums where I currently hold the rank of Vice Chairman and Pipe Sergeant. By doing this I started becoming more in tune with the even darker side of the Fire Service, dealing with the deaths of fellow firefighters and their families. The more concerning issue is the stories these faces of the afflicted firefighters, crew members and family tell just by looking at them. They are hurt and lost with the feeling that no one would understand what they are experiencing. This started bringing back those demons, the ones that to uphold your pride and the reputation of a strong Firefighter you don’t ever talk about. Not only LODD’s but all those calls that you say will never affect me because I’m stronger than that. As I got older and became a husband/father of 4, I realized I was wrong. With the generous love and understanding from my wife along with an open ear I started to overcome the burden and stress that these calls placed on me. I found that we had a connection and could relate to what was going on and work though my problems because she was also is a Firefighter/Paramedic. So my interest in the Peer Support Program is simple. As my wife did for me, lend an open ear for that individual who is in need just to be heard and let them know they are not alone. There is hope and together we can find it.