Big Announcement

Hey everybody. So in case you haven’t heard there’s a new kid on the block for fire and EMS training in the conference setting. Go>Forward Fire and Leadership Training is hosting their inaugural training conferences coming up later this year. If Go>Forward looks familiar it’s because it is to many of you. Go>Forward Fire Training is a division of G0>Forward Media which created FireEMSBlogs.com web-world, JEMS magazine’s web-world and Law Officer magazine’s web-world. They also own and operate Fire-Rescue magazine and its website. Many of the blogs you and I visit on a regular basis are a part of the Fire EMS Blogs community and of course many of you are familiar with their print-work from the magazines.

So, Go>Forward branched out and partnered with Firefighternation.com and FireEMSBlogs.com to really trying to revolutionize the way a conference style learning experience happens. They are not trying to copy or out-do FDIC, Fire-Rescue International, Fire House Expo or any of our other trade conferences. They are trying to take training at these conferences in a whole new direction. You know how it goes. You register for one of the big trade shows and pay a fairly sizable fee. Then you have to try and find an available hotel room, again at an inflated cost. Then you have to try and get into the classes you want. When you do get into a class you may be one of several hundred in the room or at the hands-on and your learning experience may be less than optimal. Go>Forward is looking to change all that. They are looking for a smaller, more affordable, more intimate venue with smaller class sizes for both lecture and hands-on. More one-on-one instructor-student time and interaction and the development of a relationship between the two that hopefully lasts well after the conference has ended. It is going to be dynamic, exciting, informative and hopefully groundbreaking.

So why the big plug? Well, here’s where the big announcement comes in. Go>Forward has asked Hallway Sledge himself to be a presenter at the very first conference that is to be held October 21 – 23 in St. Charles, Missouri at the AmeriStar Hotel, Resort and Casino. Check out the announcement on Go>Forward’s event page here. The conference has been appropriately named the Gateway Midwest Fire & Leadership Conference and will feature some of the top names in our industry such as Alan Brunacini, Tim Sendelbach and Brotherhood Instructors. Oh, yeah and my name will be on there too. I know what you just did. You did the, “Oh snap!” head thing and said, “What did you say Sledge? Your name?” Yup folks, the veil of secrecy is going to come off. If you attend the conference you can say you were among the first to find out who Hallway Sledge really is! This will more than likely result in some changes to the website, but that’s ok. I really don’t mind at this point.

‘Ole Sledge is going to be making a presentation entitled, “Selling Out to the Fire Service,” which will examine doing exactly that. Selling yourself out to our beloved job and committing fully to it. I have designed this class to be applicable to everyone from the Explorer or Junior firefighter to the 25+ year vet to the Chief himself. It will examine why we all got into this line or work, why we should have gotten into this line of work, respect for the job, ourselves and our peers as well as those we serve. I will hopefully be able to ignite some fire in our younger members and maybe re-ignite the spark in some of us that have been around the block a time or two. Don’t worry. It won’t be death by PowerPoint or anything. I’m hoping to make it an interesting lecture with stories, true examples and analogies and maybe even some class participation. The great thing about the way Go>Forward has designed the conference is that once I give my witty last line of the presentation I’m not going anywhere. They have built-in a 2 hour block of time for the presenter and the students to hang-out, chat, meet each other, network and ask questions and hopefully learn from each other. I’m excited. I hope to finally meet some of you and to learn from you as well. I really think it is going to be not only worthwhile but a great time as well.

So, go check out Go>Forward’s event page, sign up for the conference and we’ll see you there!

Stay safe!

Hallway Sledge a.k.a………………..?

Are You A 1-Percenter?

If you watched Captain Dugan’s keynote address at the opening ceremony of FDIC 2011 that I have posted below then you already know what this post is going to talk about and the chart above makes sense to you. If you have not heard the keynote address, take 22 minutes and go below to watch it then come back and you will understand. Don’t worry, we’ll still be here when you get back.

Every year Bobby Halton and his staff bust their butts to put on the best gathering of fire department professionals in the world. And every year they kick off FDIC with a featured speaker to set the tone and get everyone both pumped up and thinking about what the fire service is. This year was no exception. Captain Dugan gave a great speech and hit on some very poignant topics in todays fire service. I would like to focus on one small section of his overall address in this post, the 1-percenter. While I enjoyed Captain Dugan’s entire speech this one section really got me thinking. It got me thinking about what I perceive myself as, what I perceive others as and what is really correct.

You see, I perceive myself as a 1-percenter. I think that I strive to give back to the fire service and our younger members coming up behind us. I think that I train hard, educate myself above and beyond what is required and try to make myself the best overall firefighter and paramedic that I can. But that’s my perception. We’re all biased when evaluating ourselves, right? So what do others think of me? I guess it depends on who you would ask. I know that it might be hard for some of you to believe but I’m not universally loved and adored like I feel I should be (kidding, of course). I think that if you were to ask the numerous younger guys I have had a hand in training they would probably say some complimentary things about me and that we get along fine. If you were to ask some of the older members I work with you would get a few of those same opinions but you would also get the not-so-complimentary ones also. Some along the lines of, “trouble-maker”, “pot-stirrer”, maybe even “cocky” or the ever popular “he should just keep his mouth shut.” Problem is, that is exactly what Captain Dugan is talking about. If everyone just kept their mouths shut and went along with what was “normal” and the status quo then the picture we saw outside our windshields in 10 years would look awfully similar to the one we are looking at today. What’s our famous fire service motto? “One hundred years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” We all kind of chortle when we hear that but the sad truth is, it’s a fair and accurate statement in a lot of ways.

Here’s the one problem I see with Captain Dugan’s analogy; everyone thinks they are a 1-percenter. Think about that for a second, hold it in your brain and read on. Think of the crustiest, most ornery  member on your job. He or she probably thinks they are a 1-percenter. That person probably sees younger members coming up with college degrees, better training, perhaps a more “go get ’em” attitude and thinks that they are the problem with today’s fire service. If everyone had the experience that he or she had, if they had grown up in the school of hard-knocks old-time firefightin’ that they had they’d be real firefighters. They view themselves as the guardians of the old school and they view themselves as 1-percenters in their own way. On the flip-side we have the younger guys. The younger guys that do have college degrees, that do have better training, that are in a more enthusiastic and go get ’em phase of their careers and they view themselves as the 1-percenters. The officer that “leads” the way that he was “led”, even though it was really managing and they have no idea what the difference between the two is, thinks of themselves as a 1-percenter because he or she is doing it “right”, by the book, with a heavy hand and an un-waivering attitude. These new officers who actually talk to their charges and even more importantly listen to them and maybe even <gasp> ask for and consider other opinions are just weak and have no idea what they are doing. The chiefs that guide their departments down the same narrow road that they have been on forever view themselves as 1-percenters too. They are protecting the institution while everyone else is, in their opinion, trying to tear it down. Now, please, do not confuse buying new equipment, turnout gear and building new stations as “progress”. Those are things you absolutely have to do, they are not leading. Constantly reviewing your SOG’s and drafting new ones to fit new issues and developments within your response area, updating others that might be behind the times, looking at new technology and making it work the best for you instead of complaining about new mandates and resisting them for as long as possible, constantly looking for ways to improve the delivery of our services to the people we serve, that’s what I consider to be a 1-percenter. Not someone who looks over at the SOG book that was drafted when they were a firefighter and says, “Yep, it’s good. We have SOG’s and they must be fine because they were when I had to follow them.” Do you see what I mean? Everyone, somehow, someway, identifies themselves as a 1-percenter.

So what about the rest of the pie? We’ve got that 10 out of  100 that just shouldn’t be here. And I am a firm believer in that. One of my favorite sayings is, “I may want to be a brain surgeon with every ounce of my being, but God just didn’t make me to be one. Does that mean I should be given a scalpel and free reign in an operating room?” Believe me, if you want to live, the answer would be a resounding “No”. So why do we pass firefighters on probation that are marginal at best? Why do we allow firefighters that made it through probation and are less than stellar to be buried at slower stations or to skip out on responsibilities? I once heard a senior firefighter with years of great experience and strong job knowledge say, “I don’t need to teach these young guys anything. It’s not my job. I’m just trying to get through these last few years.” I have no problem with someone a few years from retirement being afforded some extra latitude in certain things but passing on your knowledge and experience is not one that is negotiable in my book. If that’s the kind of poisonous attitude you are going to have then maybe you should just go now. What about those not physically capable of doing the job? They put themselves and the rest of us at risk. While a yearly NFPA medical physical is great and I’m all for them I don’t put a lot of stock in them for actual “job readiness” or as my buddy Chris Brennan would say “the ready position.” If you pass your annual medical physical but then cannot physically make it through the SCBA entanglement maze during training, which is more important? Maybe it’s time to go.

Then there’s the 80 out of 100 that are “just targets”, maybe for our purposes we should say the 80 that are “just here.” Those guys and gals that aren’t bad firefighters or medics, they aren’t bad guys and gals, they can physically do the job but they kind of just take up space in the house and on the rigs. I don’t necessarily have a huge problem with these folks. While I certainly would like to see everyone reading extra articles, taking classes, working on extra drills and making themselves better I know that not everyone will be like that. There is the regular Army and then there are the Rangers. There is the Navy and then there are the SEALs. There are Marines and then there are Recon Marines. There’s the Air Force and then there is Pararescue. Not everyone can be in that elite field. As long as you have strong firefighting knowledge and skills, strong paramedic knowledge and can carry out your job correctly and efficiently with the most basic of direction, then you’re ok in my book. Just ok, but still ok.

Then we have the 9 out of the 100. The real firefighters. Who is in this group? These are the people who started out as the 80 and pushed themselves to be better. These are the people who love the job and can’t get enough. Most of the time these are the people you see taking classes for other reasons than just promotion. People who join specialty teams or seek assignment to the busier companies and houses. Most of the time they are the people who have their heads in trade journals and websites finding out what’s new and hot. They strive to make themselves better and see their profession as much more than just a job, it’s a calling. They are a wealth of knowledge and share it freely. They are enthusiastic and rarely have a bad day at the firehouse. Some call them “geeks” or say they just shouldn’t care so much. But they know better.

Then there’s the 1 in 100. The 1-percenter. This is the person that was a “real firefighter” and through a combination of hard work, dedication, training and pure God-given talent took their performance to a whole different level. These are the Olympic athletes of the fire service. Those firefighters and fire officers that just have that something extra that puts them above the rest of us. These are the true 1-percenters. I said in the opening I believe I am a 1-percenter, but I say it in the way that my first few paragraphs of this post were talking about. I perceive myself that way, but am I really? I don’t think so. I have so much more to learn and so much better that I can be. So while I strive to get there someday, I need to keep in mind that I could slip into another of these categories if I’m not careful. If I let too many set-backs take their toll, or too many perceived injustices quash my spirit. Continuing on the athletic example, I may strive for the Olympics but if I only get to the Major Leagues then I’m still better than 90% of those that try out. I’m pretty good with that.

So do you see the dilemma? Everyone who cares the least little bit about the fire service will place themselves in the 9% or 1% categories. That’s their self-perception. As viewed by others, however, maybe not so much. So what should we do? Should there be an NFPA standard to define what category you fall into? What would it matter? Our departments would just opt out of that one just like they do half the others that they don’t want to follow. Should an independent certification board be set up and then you could earn your “1% Card”? I dunno. You can probably tell I’m suggesting that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Maybe we should all just move on as we are. Let those that think they are in the top 10% keep thinking it. Let them also keep their negative attitudes of those of us that are actually striving to be in that top 10% and then raise a glass in their honor at their retirement parties. Meanwhile we do exactly what I just said. Keep striving to be in that top 10% while aiming towards being a true 1-percenter. Keep striving to bring positive and meaningful change to our beloved fire service and keep training up those that will follow in our footsteps.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

The Deep Dark Secret

This post is going to be intensely personal and somewhat difficult to write, mainly because this is about me. I am not talking about anyone else in this post and everything you read here comes from my own experiences and struggles. I’m taking a bit of a risk with this topic but I feel it is important to discuss openly and has been something which has been at the forefront of many trade journals and reports lately. Because this is such a personal subject and because it is one which carries with it a certain amount of stigma I am going to personally moderate any and all comments associated with this post. While I am all about free and open discussion, even if it differs from my view, this is one time where I will invoke the editor’s privilege and will refuse to publish any comments that are derogatory, attacking or otherwise meant to cause hurt. This I promise you.

I suffer from depression. There, I said it. Or typed it. There are very few people outside of my immediate family that have ever heard me admit this or speak about it. Even though I know that I should not be, there is a bit of me that is embarrassed to admit it. After all, I’m a firefighter. One of America’s Bravest. A hero. Someone who sees the worst situations humans can find themselves in and then just deals with it. Right? Turns out not so much.

When I look back on my life I can point to different periods of time where I felt down or sad or just didn’t really want to be around anyone else. But never did I associate it with depression. These periods began in my early twenties. Many would be surprised to hear me say that because of who I was back then. Fresh out of college, a firefighter, making good money with great benefits for a young single guy. Most thought I had the world by the horns. I acted like it too. I loved life and tried living it to the fullest with sports and friends and girls and bars. I had a great time, made some mistakes, learned some lessons and moved on, but in general everything was all good. There would just be some times when I was really sad or angry and I didn’t know why. A week or more would go by and I wouldn’t return friends calls or I’d hide upstairs in my room when they dropped by my place to see if I was home. I just didn’t want to see anyone. Then, one morning I’d wake up and I’d be fine or I’d finally answer someone’s call and go do something and it would be over for a while. “Oh well,” I’d think, “everyone has ‘down’ times in their life.” I never found any pattern or trigger or anything like that. Then again, I wasn’t looking. These episodes went on in greater or lesser degrees for about 12 years without ever being addressed or really thought about. I just kept shrugging my shoulders and chalking it up to being a “down time.” Then something happened that slapped me in the face.

I had gotten married and my wife and I had had our first child. Not long after daughter #1 was born (seven months to be exact) we found out we were expecting again. We hadn’t been trying to get pregnant but we weren’t exactly trying to prevent it either so while we were a little surprised and a bit apprehensive we were nonetheless overjoyed at welcoming another baby to our little family. Then, while at work one day, I got hurt. At first I thought I had just tweaked something and it would go away by morning or at worst take a couple days to calm down. When I woke up in the middle of the night to go on a call and had difficulty functioning I really got worried. After an ER visit, a CT and an MRI I finally had a diagnoses and was told I was looking at surgery. Our new-born was only about a month old when this happened. Our house was pretty crazy with all the visitors, a 15 month-old, a new-born and a dog running around. My wife and I discussed our options and we basically came to the conclusion that to wait and put off the surgery would only cause further damage and possibly jeopardize my career and that it might actually be easier to do it while daughter #2 was an infant and slept a lot, during the day anyway. So we decided to have it done and next thing I know the anesthesiologist is saying, “Goodnight. See you on the flip-side.”

Surgery was a success and I began the healing process. At first I was ok emotionally. I was at home with my family and my newest daughter. I had some time off work and I had an excuse for not changing poopy diapers or doing any chores around the house. It was great! For the first couple weeks anyway. I distinctly remember one day, sitting on my couch in my living room, and offering to feed the baby for my wife. I figured I could just sit still, cradle her and hold a bottle. That shouldn’t be too tough, right? Wrong. She was wiggly that day and the experiment ended in near-disaster as she just about fell off my lap onto the floor and I was unable to stop her. The milk from the bottle was everywhere, she was crying and I felt terrible. As my wife came to the rescue I broke down crying. My wife tried to comfort me and tell me it was o.k. but all I could sob was, “I can’t even feed my own daughter.” I was consumed with guilt that my wife was being saddled with everything around the house, taking care of the kids and having since returned to work. My parents, both of whom are retired, were at my house every day my wife was at work to help with the kids. I say “help” but that really is a misnomer since I really couldn’t do anything to assist them. I think if we are all honest with ourselves we could all admit that spending that much time with your parents once you are an adult and on your own is not healthy for anyone. So another brick was piled onto my back. I was extremely grateful and appreciative of all the help my folks were giving us but I really just wanted them gone and my house back to myself. I remember having mental struggles with myself and calling myself an a-hole for even feeling that way considering everything they were doing for me. Soon, going to my three times a week physical therapy became the highlight of my existence. A PT mind you, that was brutal. A PT that saw me tear holes in the pleather cover of the exam table with my fingernails, break down into tears on numerous occasions and taught some of the other clients some colorful language they may have not been familiar with before. What can I say? I’m a giver.

I found myself leaving early for my appointments, doing extra reps or just kind of hanging around talking to the staff and other patients and taking the long way home. I wasn’t talking to my wife, I couldn’t play with my oldest daughter and I had nothing to do. I was on different fire service websites and blogs all the time, read the Charleston report about three times and did lots of research and dreaming for drills for when I got back to work. But even that was a double-edged sword. I remember feeling like I was exiled from “the family”. I was still a firefighter, but in name only for that period of time. Anyone who knows me knows that being a firefighter is intertwined with my identity and makes me who I am. I guess that’s not supposed to be healthy either, making your job or anything else that big a part of your identity but I think many of us are programmed that way. I just kept telling myself that it would be ok once I got back to work. I just need to get through this and get back to what I love and I’d be fine. Problem was, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon as I was off work for more than 6 months. During that time I just continued to slide into a deeper and deeper hole. My wife knew something was wrong but hadn’t quite had an epiphany as to what yet. We fought a lot, I was easy to anger, short with the kids and my parents. My friends all thought maybe I had died in surgery or something because, once again, I wouldn’t return calls or texts or e-mails. The guys from the firehouse would check-in every once in a while but I avoided them too. I can’t say everyone forgot about me or that no one cared, because that was not even remotely true. I was just so down and so wrapped up in my dark cloud that I couldn’t see it or care. It was somewhere around this point that my wife first uttered the “D” word. Sort of in an accusatory, “I’m sick of this s**t” kind of way. I blew it, and her, off and just kept telling myself I needed to get back to work. For everyone waiting to hear that I turned to drugs or alcohol, sorry to disappoint you but that luckily never happened. Even though I was on some heavy-duty pain meds I was fortunate enough to not have any issues with them or turn to a bottle. Well, eventually I went back to work and things got better for a while. I was happy to be back and in the community again. I returned with a new vigor for training and an enthusiasm I had not felt in a while. My wife noticed the difference and I think she thought that maybe everything was past us and that being home hurt had just been a proverbial valley in our lives. Anyone familiar with the disease knows that it doesn’t just magically disappear and so it was for me as well.

Thankfully my wife stayed on me and mentioned the big D a few more times. I finally started thinking about it and being honest with myself.  I realized I wasn’t myself and I needed to do something about it or I was going to do irreparable damage to my marriage and other relationships. I didn’t have a family doctor (I’m a medic, I just ask the ER doc for a Z-pack) and didn’t really know where to turn so I went to our department doctor. I never got to see him however as the receptionist told me that unless it was work-related they couldn’t see me. I left with my head down and my tail between my legs. I used the “I tried, but…” excuse for a while but in the back of my head I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t feeling myself, I knew my temper was worse and I knew my wife was unhappy. I got a referral for a doc from a friend and gave him a call. A week later and I was in his office telling him everything and looking at him for a miracle cure. He talked to me for quite a while and asked me a bunch of questions (something I later found out is called the DSM-IV exam) and then told me what I pretty much already knew; I had a moderately-severe to severe case of depression. He urged me to find a counselor and prescribed me a medication and told me he wanted me to come in for regular visits for a while to monitor the affect of the meds and make sure I was doing better (i.e. that I wasn’t going to kill myself or anything).  I partially took his advice. I made my regular appointments and I filled the prescription and took the meds as I was supposed to, but I didn’t call a counsellor. I was looking for a quick-fix.

As I’ve learned through this process most meds that are prescribed for depression, as well as other psychiatric and emotional issues, take time to enter your system and begin working. This is usually somewhere around 10 days to two weeks. I swear I started feeling the affects within days of beginning my med. Within a couple weeks I was feeling much better. I was much slower to anger, I started looking at things on the brighter side and I was happier overall. My wife noticed too but the real validation came one day when my oldest girl blurted out, “Daddy’s happy again”, and threw her arms around me. I almost cried. I lulled myself into thinking that the meds alone were doing the trick and everything was good. As also happens with many of these meds they seem to wear-off or their affects lessen over time. Within a year or so I was taking them only because it was now my habit to do so. I really didn’t think I was feeling any affects from them anymore and noticed that things slowly started sliding back to where I was before. Then I had another issue that pushed me over the edge.

I started to blog partially to help with the depression. I thought that if I could get my thoughts out there and have an outlet for some of the things that irritate me or things that I feel need to be discussed that it would help. Sort of like journaling, just over the ‘net. I have also always wanted to be some form of writer. I have a couple unfinished books sitting here on my hard drive. But I have no idea how to get a book published and I hear it’s expensive so I thought a free blog-hosting site like WordPress and a cheap domain name registration was the way to go. I was realizing something I had always wanted to do and perhaps receiving some cheap therapy, so to speak, at the same time. And it was very positive for a while. I started to to see some success with the site, hits were up, comments were positive, a couple articles received some attention, there were a couple offers to publish some posts and most flattering of all I was nominated by readers for the “Blog of the Year” contest that Rhett Fleitz and Black Diamond hosted over at The Fire Critic. Never in my wildest imagination did I see anything like that happening for me just because I decided to sit down at my computer and put my thoughts out there. I was extremely pleased. Unfortunately not everyone felt as good about my blog as I did and I soon found myself facing “an issue” regarding my endeavor.

As this issue with my blog unfolded I went emotionally downhill fast. Not the slow sink into depression that I experienced the first time but a hard and fast crash. My mind was constantly racing with “what ifs”, playing scenarios out over and over, having hypothetical conversations in my head with those that were coming after me, not sleeping, not eating, suffering physical effects from the stress and the depression and for the first time in my life I was having thoughts that truly scared me. I never had what I would term an outright suicidal thought, as in “I’m going to cut my wrists, or eat a gun” but I did have thoughts about dying. The most vivid and startling one was while I was driving one evening. The weather wasn’t the best and the roads were slippery and as I made my way along I focused on a very large tree just off the side of the road ahead of me. As I looked at the tree getting closer the thought popped into my head of losing control of the vehicle, colliding with the tree and dying. It wasn’t so much of an inner monologue as it was kind of a quick picture of the event unfolding. The whole time I was thinking to myself, “I’d be o.k. with that. It would certainly be easier.” I never steered the vehicle toward the tree or anything like that. I passed it by and kept going to my destination arriving safe and sound. But that thought and that mental picture of the events scared me enough that when I saw my wife I relayed the events to her and said, “That’s enough of this crap. I’m calling Dr. So-and-so tomorrow and talking to him about changing my meds and I’m calling a counsellor.” My wife was surprised in a good way and very supportive. Within a week I was back in my doctor’s office.

My doctor listened to everything, asked me some more questions and agreed to up the dosage of my medication as a first step in evaluating things. He said if that doesn’t work we’ll look at changing drugs or classes of drugs. He also told me I needed to get someone to talk to and I assured him that I was. I called a counsellor that I had known from the past in a different capacity and he got me in quickly. We caught up on my life in general since we had last known each other and then I filled him in on everything that had taken place from my early 20’s, to getting hurt, to my current situation. It felt good to talk about everything openly and receive feed-back and techniques to assist in dealing with things. I can’t stress enough that if you find yourself identifying with any of this or know someone who sounds like me, meds alone aren’t going to fix the situation. Counseling is an integral part of the total treatment and needs to be taken seriously and openly for it to help.

My “issue” has not been resolved as I write this so there is still a bit of apprehension and anger that resides within  me on a day-to-day basis, but I’m doing much better than I was.  During the course of events I was questioned and provided truthful and accurate answers to those questions. Once that day of questioning was over I experienced an amazing lessening of stress and agitation. It was incredible. The saying goes that, “the truth will set you free”, and in my case and in this situation it was absolutely so. I had answered everything posed to me honestly and with a clear conscience and had nothing to hide. That feeling that the interrogation was over and I had presented the facts and my side went a very long way in helping my emotional state and my being. Since that day I have improved greatly. It is hard to say if the meds have had a major impact or the counseling or the lifting of the weight of the interrogation. It’s probably a combination of it all, but all I do know for sure is that I feel better and I would certainly not be o.k. with dying any time soon. That in and of itself is enough for me.

So why ramble on about all this? It isn’t so that you feel sorry for me or so that I’ll get a bunch of supportive comments that make me feel better about myself. It’s so that anyone who is reading this and can identify with it or can think of someone who sounds like this can recognize it and hopefully get help. I had intended to provide statistics and scholarly research on firefighters and depression but I couldn’t find any. Most of the research I found dealt with studies that were conducted on survivors and participants in the terrorist attacks of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. Some other studies I did find were conducted over 20 years ago and didn’t seem relevant since so much has changed with the research and understanding of this disease. So those of you that are stats lovers or just really love to read medical research papers I’m sorry to disappoint. But there has been numerous articles of late in our trade journals regarding firefighter suicide and the depression that may lead to that and our great fire service cartoonist Paul Combs also penned a very poignant cartoon on the subject. It’s something we need to talk about and recognize in our profession.

Now, let me be clear about something. I don’t believe that being a firefighter caused my depression, exactly. I believe that I am a person who suffers from depression and who just happens to be a firefighter. I do think, however, that the things we see and deal with in our line of work can exacerbate a condition someone might already have. I also believe that firefighters have some general personality traits that make them less likely to seek help. We are the ones who help others, not who need to be helped. We are the ones that solve problems, no matter what, and you can’t “fix” something that’s in your head. We are the ones who are strong and un-waivering, not the ones who feel weak and uncertain. Attitudes such as these can prevent us from seeing what is going on with ourselves and looking to get help. Therefore it may take others to recognize the signs and intervene on our behalf. Please, if you think you might suffer from depression or think you know someone who does find a way to let someone know. Find someone you trust and ask for help. It will not get better on its own and it won’t just go away. You cannot just “try harder” to “be a better person.” The list of signs and symptoms of depression below comes from the Mayo Clinic’s website here.

Feelings of sadness or unhappiness

Irritability or frustration, even over small matters

Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

Reduced sex drive

Insomnia or excessive sleeping

Changes in appetite — depression often causes decreased appetite and weight loss, but in some people it causes increased cravings for food and weight gain

Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still

Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration

Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy — even small tasks may seem to require a lot of effort

Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself when things aren’t going right

Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Crying spells for no apparent reason

Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Now I know what some of you are thinking, especially the medics out there. You’re thinking that a lot of those S&S’s are vague or could be chalked up to the regular, every day stress of life. Kind of like everything has nausea and vomiting as a possible indicator. I agree. But you know when something is not right, when you’re just not yourself. I did, I just didn’t know why or what to associate it with. Hopefully, after reading this post, the list of S&S’s and maybe doing some of your own research you can recognize that those symptoms you or someone you know are experiencing may not be every day stress. I have provided some links below that could help you with that research. Please, take the time to look around and be honest with yourself or for you friend or family member.

Understanding Depression

WebMD

National Institute of Mental Health

MedicineNet

Good Therapy

Family Practice Notebook

TheraVive

It is important to note that I do not endorse or have any personal or financial interest in any of the above listed organizations. They are simply starting points for anyone wishing to look further into depression. This post is also not intended to be a singular source for diagnoses or treatment of depression or any other mental or emotional issue. It is simply an attempt to encourage my brothers and sisters to invest in themselves and seek help for themselves or someone else that may be suffering from depression.

I hope that my story will help someone out there. Until next time,

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

What I Really Think, In Case You Didn’t Already Know

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on other blogs lately and doing some soul-searching related to what I’ve read. Much of what I have been reading has had to do with aggressive versus safe operations, and what those two terms really mean. Indeed, much of my “Pussification” post that caused a little stir dealt with that very topic. Because of that post and the subsequent debate I entered into on Firefighter Nation I feel that perhaps where I really stand on this current hot-button issue may have become a little blurred in all the rhetoric and back-and-forth. I’d like to take a little time to try and clarify my position and perhaps open up some more discussion, because I think open and honest debate in our profession is good and constructive.

Ok, so in the one corner you have what others have termed, “the aggressives.” I use the picture of our friendly neighborhood pooch up there to illustrate that camp. In the other corner are the “safeties.” Some other people have used a little more disparaging terms to describe our brothers and sisters in this camp. I, for once, will not. Then there seems to be the third camp. I haven’t seen a catchy name for them yet so I’ll make one up. Let’s call them the “scales”, as in balance the two approaches. All these camps are populated with good, strong and well-respected firefighters and fire officers. They all make good and convincing arguments for their stances and all have sizable followings. If you have read any of my comments in either my posts or my debates you would probably put me in the “aggressives” camp. That may be a fair assessment but I am going to disagree. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.

I consider myself to be an aggressive firefighter, that is true. I also consider myself to be a safe firefighter. I believe I am well-trained, have a good understanding of my job, tactics and strategy, building construction, basic chemistry and a kind of sixth-sense that taps me on my shoulder every once in a while. All of those things aid me in approaching an incident scene in both an aggressive and safe manner. I think that perhaps many of my comments previously may have been misconstrued to mean that I may suffer from “Duty to Die Syndrome” or that I am aggressive to the point of ignoring any potentially fatal circumstances. Believe me, I do not want to die any earlier than I have to and I certainly don’t want to be internet fodder for the second-guessers if I were to meet my demise on a run. I don’t want to sit around the camp fire singing Kumbaya or appear on the evening news tearfully pleading for us all to just get along, but I would tend to put myself into a different camp. Again, take a moment to compose yourself before reading further.

I’m going to try and make a singular statement to sum up my own, personal, firefighting edict. I suppose you all will be the judges if it is effective or not. Here it goes.

“I believe that I freely chose an honorable, important and inherently dangerous profession that may leave me seriously injured or worse. I believe it is incumbent upon myself and my brother and sister firefighters to risk our well-being to try and save another human life within the limits of our human selves. I believe that a building is not empty until we say it is empty, regardless of the tactic or technology used to determine that. I believe that, although secondary, property conservation is still a part of our mission and should not be treated as an option or a matter of convenience. I believe that training, including physical fitness, is the best way to prepare for our missions and to ensure that the highest quality of service is delivered to the people that depend on us. I believe that it is unequivocally my job and responsibility to pass my own knowledge and insight into this job on to our younger members and anyone that does not believe or accept that should remain quietly in the corner and await their retirement date. I believe it is up to the administration of our departments to give us the tools and support we need and deserve to carry out our missions and to stand up to those that would seek to diminish our ability to do so. Finally, I believe that the job of firefighter is much more than a job, it is truly a calling, and the participation in this profession should be treated with the utmost respect.”

With liberty and fraternity for all. Amen.

So there it is. I think I got everything, maybe not, but I think you got the idea. I do not believe you can be 100% in one or the other of the “aggressive” or “safety” camps and be an effective firefighter. On the one hand you would be dangerous to yourself and others. On the other you would be completely ineffective as you were immobilized into inaction. That’s what I think anyway. And I would like to be clear on something else, also. I don’t apply my edict only to the rank of firefighter. Our officers, from company level on up, should have the same core belief structure as well. I completely understand that as you progress in rank so do your responsibilities to those you lead and by extension their families. I get it. But sometimes I think that if we get involved in a little bit of a real firefight and companies have to do a little work suddenly the fire becomes a “loser” and we’re waiting for the fire to remove the fuel side of the tetrahedron so we can all pack up and go home. I may have lost some people there so I’ll try to illustrate better. Sometimes it seems that if a fire can not be contained and extinguished with a single pre-connected line and less than one minute of nozzle operation troops are pulled out and the building is written off. Many times the “safety” argument is made to support these decisions. If everyone is out and accounted for then it isn’t worth a firefighter’s life. And I would totally and completely agree with that basic statement in its most simplistic form. However, if it is possible to get in, get at it and get on it, then do it and the building gets a lot safer.

So there it is. Believe me, sitting on the fence goes against just about every fiber in my body but I really don’t think that I am. I still would put myself in the aggressive camp. Or maybe I’d lead a popular uprising and go start another camp fire somewhere else and hang a banner reading, “The Aggressively Safe” camp. Yeah, that’s it. And it would have nice warm cabins with satellite TV and refrigerators instead of tents and those cheap styrofoam coolers those other camps have. Come join me, we’re better.

Stay Safe!

Chris

Quick Note of Surprise and Thanks

Sorry for the lack of content lately, folks. Trust me, there is a very good reason for it. This is just a quick note to make you aware of something that took me completely by surprise and which I found out quite by accident.

Rhett Fleitz from the FireCritic.com in conjunction with Black Diamond manufacturers is running a “Blog of the Year” contest and BAS has been nominated. I had no idea until I stumbled on it accidentally last night. I greatly appreciate this as the blogs that are being considered in this contest are filled with bloggers that I look up to and have read for years before I attempted my own effort. It also means a lot to me because the blogs that are nominated had to be put in by YOU, the readers. Evidently I’m doing something right and may be saying some things that are resonating with some of you out there. I appreciate that greatly.

So, if you’d like to vote head here, look at the list of nominees, check out the ones you haven’t read before and then put in a vote for whoever you think is deserving of this honor. As both the FireGeezer and Rhett have said before me, this gives a great chance for some of you to be introduced to and read blogs you may not have been aware of before. Voting opened on January 24th and is open until February 1st so get a move-on. Have fun checking them all out!

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

Firefighter Dads

I’m sitting here thinking about the two little girls that are asleep upstairs and the day we have had already. I worked yesterday so I was gone for my usual 24 hours. My wife and I are very fortunate that we do not have to use daycare for our kids because her job allows her to self-schedule, which usually works out o.k. On days when we both do have to work we are even more fortunate that my folks are both retired and help us out by watching the girls for the bulk of the day until my in-laws come to relieve them after they get off from work and until my wife gets home around 8:15 P.M. Other days, like today, my awesome father-in-law gets out of bed early and comes to our house to watch the girls when my wife leaves for work at 5:50 A.M. until I get home somewhere around 8:45. He then heads off to work to put in a full day. We are truly blessed with all the help we receive.

Today was kind of nuts. I ran home from the station (thank God the on-coming shift took the call that came in 5 minutes before shift-change), grabbed the two girls who my father-in-law had already gotten up, cleaned up, fed (up), dressed up and packed up and ran right back out to get them to their respective “schools”. The youngest is in a one day a week pre-school type program and the oldest goes two days a week. Both in different locations and about four towns away from each other. We made it with plenty of time to spare for both.

After dropping the last one off I went back home, let the dog out, fed the dog, glanced through the paper and yesterdays mail and ate some awesome pumpkin-spice bread my wife had evidently made just for me to eat all up this morning. Ok, the two end pieces are still left. Then I went and got cleaned up and dressed. By that time I had about enough time to check out a couple of my favorite fire service blog sites (you can find them on the right, Firefighter Basics and Fire Geezer) before I had to run back out to collect my oldest, since her school is over first. When I got there I met a friend of ours whose daughter is in the same class. We decided it was a good day to take the kids to McDonald’s for lunch and then we could chat. In between the spills, fights and shrieking we managed to discuss marriage, politics and just the general frustration of life. Then it was time to go get Daughter #2 (no, I don’t refer to her as that to her face, but even if I did I really don’t think it will give her a complex and end her up on a therapists couch someday, so back-off all you amateur child psychologists). After driving three towns over and four towns back home I read them stories and settled them into their beds for nap time. That was a couple hours ago and it has been blissfully quiet as I sit and play on my computer. So that’s what got me thinking about firefighter Dads.

We miss a lot of our families lives because of the nature of our job. We can be gone for twenty-four, forty-eight or sometimes more hours at a stretch. If you are part-time or volunteer you might need to leave just as you are sitting down to the first family dinner everyone has actually decided to attend in nearly a month. Sports activities, recitals, birthdays, holidays, dances all get missed at some time or another and it hurts. It hurts us as well as our families. But then there’s the other side.

Since I am full-time I have forty-eight hours off between shifts and for the first time in nearly 15 years I am not working a second job. I get to come home and do all that running around I mentioned earlier. I get to go to the park and the swimming pool and go on walks with my girls. I get to play with them, bond with them and at times (much more frequently lately it seems) discipline them. All necessary things a father must do to hope to have any kind of real relationship with his child. It’s awesome and I love it, well most the time anyway. There are those days…..

I guess what really got me thinking about this was the conversation my friend and I had a McDonald’s. We’re pretty tight and share just about everything. During the conversation about marriage my friend was telling me about the demands their spouse, a 9 – 5-er who works more like 5 – 9, was under at work and how there just didn’t seem to be enough time for family when they got home. It was leading to a lot of stress in their marriage which in turn affected the kids because the spouse who was staying at home never had a break and was under constant demands from the kids. My friend kind of half-marveled at the fact I could manage the day’s schedule and successfully get the girls where they needed to be, be with them all day, feed them, give them baths etc. etc. I told my friend I was sure that their spouse could handle it too. This comment was met with a chortle and a roll of the eyes. Turns out my friend’s spouse can’t even give the kids a bath if they aren’t home to help.

I have tremendous short-comings, just ask my wife. But in addition to being in a very honorable profession I think being a firefighter has made me a better Dad too. Hopefully, it will make my kids better people also. I get to raise my children and spend so much more time with them than most other dads, even with the 24 hour shifts. They probably won’t grow up to be the next Mother Theresa’s, especially with my genes running around in them, but I think they’ll be ok and I hope that me being around a lot has something to do with it.

Well, I see a little face peeking through the banister at me so I suppose I should wrap it up. I think I’m gonna go be a pony or something now.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

Hello world!

Ok, so this is my first attempt at anything like this. Some people have said I have something to say so I figured, “why not?” I am a full-time- Firefighter/Paramedic who lives in the Great Midwest, somewhere between the Canadian border (the South side), the Mason-Dixon line, and between Ohio and Kansas (the state, not the musical group.) I am a husband to an understanding, patient (most of the time) and Registered Nurse wife who works in a teaching hospital that is also a Level I Trauma Center. My wife chose her specific field because of a love of children, she works in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where she sees the sickest of the sick and the injured-ist of the injured. The hospital is located in not such a nice neighborhood and receives patients not only from the immediate vicinity but also patients that are referred from many other small community hospitals and even from other bordering states. Together we have two young girls who both test us and bring us great joy. I like to say that God is revisiting my sins upon me by blessing me with two girls and giving them both a healthy dose of their father’s attitude. Oh, and by the way, I am also a Christian and not ashamed of it. So if that doesn’t sit well with you, I’m sorry but not regretful. There will be occasional references to God and maybe even <GASP> scripture on here.

So anyway, what is this really all about? Well, I am very proud of being a firefighter/paramedic. I truly believe that God (there I go again) put me on this Earth to perform those jobs. Am I the world’s best? No, absolutely not. This profession is one that has a way of slapping you down with a heavy pimp-hand if you get too big for your turn-outs. I do, however, think I have something to say and can maybe help give voice to some of my other colleagues who may feel the same, or even differently, about issues. It seems, however, that lately our ever litigious society has our Fire Chiefs very gun-shy about members who post opinions, commentary or ideas on the web. I’m not talking about the members like the idiot from Spalding County, Georgia who used his cell phone to take video of an accident scene in which a young woman was tragically killed and then the video wound up being shown to the woman’s father before he was properly notified. No, I’m not talking about that kind of absolute idiocy. I’m simply talking about the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions that any working stiff has about his or her job. Not defaming, not insidious, not attacking, just open discussion. Let me give you a personal example.

So I’m sitting in the Chief’s office for a friendly (ahem) little afternoon chat and he brings up a post I had made approximately two years ago on a major fire service website. The Chief was none too pleased with my post and decided to let me know about it, in a counseling sort of way mind-you. He proceeded to semi-quote me off the top of his head but he did it so inaccurately that I had to really search the deep recesses of my mind to figure out what he was talking about. When I finally did figure it out I gently tried to set him straight about the topic I was discussing in the post and what I actually had said. Well, of course, he’s still the Chief and he wanted his point made so he continued on and told me that even if that was the case, (paraphrasing) “can you see how dangerous putting things out there for anyone to see is? I thought you were a disgruntled firefighter (I wasn’t) who was bashing” that particular thing I was talking about. Hmmm, really. Then why didn’t you come ask me about it (my department is small enough to be able to do that) instead of waiting two years and then bringing it up in another completely different conversation? Here’s why:

Members or employees of the Department shall not publicly criticize or ridicule the Department (I wasn’t), its policies or members by talking, writing or expression in any manner where such talking, writing or expression  is: 1) Defamatory; 2) Obscene; or 3) Otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment.

There’s also one about divulgence of Department business that is so exclusive that pretty much talking about anything to do with Fight Club would get your butt kicked in a court of The Chief. And there-in lies the problem. Anything that is put out there on the great information super highway could be construed any way any individual wants. It is my belief there is nothing wrong with open and frank discussion and sharing your opinions. Sometimes they may very well be bitter or emotional. So what? At least it shows passion and a desire to get involved.

So, that is where I’m coming from with this blog and also why there is such a need to be vague. I’ll let you in on tid-bits that are relevant and hopefully add to an understanding of where I come from but I can’t publicly identify myself or my organization for fear of discipline. I can’t promise how regular this will be updated or how technologically savvy it will be but I hope to put something out there that someone may enjoy and could maybe use someday.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge