Reaching Out to Our Brothers and Sisters

"We're our brothers' keepers. We need to be just as committed to them here as we are in a burning building or any other dangerous situation."

As a firefighter, you know better than anyone what your brothers and sisters are struggling with. You can be the one who makes a difference for them at a moment of trial.

how to know if someone is struggling

    Since firefighters spend long shifts together -- either on the lines or in the station -- they have a special view when one of their brothers or sisters is having trouble. Here are some common signs and symptoms of someone who may be struggling:

    • Changes in eating habits such as overeating or a loss of appetite
    • Overly worried, even about smaller things
    • Inability to concentrate, memory recall issues, or the inability to think clearly
    • Unusual expressions of hopelessness or despair
    • Restlessness, irritability, insomnia
    • Loss of interest in activities
    • Changes in energy levels
    • Alcohol or substance use changes.

    Spotting Post Traumatic Stress in a Loved One

    Families are the first to notice when something's not right with a loved one. Here are some of the most common signs of post-traumatic stress that you will notice in your loved ones that are firefighters. 

    • Signs of emptiness or feeling numb that can include; insincere responses or zoning out in front of technology or mindless activities
    • High levels of stress that usually start in the beginning of the day and last consistently throughout the day
    • Lack of caring or initiative with tasks and chores around the house
    • Lack of caring for anything in general
    • They will appear to isolate themselves or remove themselves from situations or activities that they used to enjoy
    • General demeanor of sadness or solemness that last throughout the day

    If you see something, say something

    If one of your fellow firefighters went down in the middle of an active fire, you'd go in to get them out, right? So why not help get them get out of an emotional injury?

    It starts with awareness. If you see the warning signs of a brother or sister in distress, letting it go shouldn't be an option.

    • Be direct: Take a proactive approach and ask someone when you've seen them exhibiting some of the warning signs or appears in crisis
    • Challenge with compassion: Ask them questions like “What do you mean by that?” or “Why are you acting this way?” Listen and if it appears they are in a crisis, do not leave them alone.
    • Check yourself: Be aware of your own struggles and feelings and be honest about them in the context. 
    • Walk the walk: Be there for your injured colleague, supporting their recovery just as you would if a brother or sister went down with an injury in a fire.

    Remember: If someone is in crisis or seems at risk of suicide, don't leave them alone.

    When an arm around the shoulder isn't enough

    If someone you know is in crisis, it's important to know how they can find help. Resources are available, either through your department or through resources geared toward the needs of front line firefighters:

    • Peer support
    • Suicide intervention
    • Employee Assistance Programs
    • Professional Counseling

    Changing the culture in the firehouse

    In the old days, firefighters' coping methods after a heartbreaking or difficult call were gallows humor, denial and alcohol. The overwhelming evidence is clear: Those strategies don't work for everyone.  

    Firefighters feel most comfortable talking with their peers -- individuals who share their experiences. That makes the firehouse the perfect place to engage in injury prevention. 

    If someone opens up at the kitchen table about a bad call or a difficult experience, don't shout them down. Help them down. And don't be afraid to relate your own experiences and concerns.

    Knowing that they're not alone can be the best thing for a brother or sister at risk.