WE’VE GOT TO DO BETTER THAN THIS

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We’ve got to do better than this.

It is with a heavy heart that I find myself mourning another brother as I write this blog post. A brother who was the epitome of dedication and passion, and who was loved by all who had the fortune to know him, or be the target of his shameless wit and humor. He loved the fire service, he loved teaching, but something went off the tracks, something pushed this amazing man across a line of no return and at the moment we are only left with questions of why.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

I have been here before – sitting, wondering, second-guessing my every conversation, wondering what I could have missed. For those who know me best, you know that I lost my lieutenant to suicide in 2008. We did not see this coming – I’m not sure anybody who has lost a loved one to suicide does. But like my fallen brother from this past week, my lieutenant was the life of every gathering and took great pleasure in bringing smiles and laughter to others. He did this to the very last day and he hid his pain well. Could I (we) have stopped his suicide? I don’t know; he was determined to do it, but I sure would have liked to try! But out of his tragedy came my desire to help prevent others from dealing with the same pain and loss. To use my gift as an artist to perhaps say things that an article or speaker cannot convey through the written or spoken word. To say the hard things that need to be said, but many won’t say out load – to make a difference!

 

Editorial illustrations are my voice. I don’t have many life-skills, but drawing seems to be something I have some proficiency at, so I use this to start the conversations that need to be had. You see my work and it can bring a smile or laugh, a nod of agreement, a snort of defiance, or an anger induced tantrum – all are good. But what you never get to see behind my creative curtain are the hours of torment when I feel I must draw an illustration like this one. An illustration drawn out of frustration, pain, heartbreak, and outrage; an illustration that I hope and pray will kick start a movement to do more to prevent savable lives from ending way too early.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

We rightfully regale the fallen with honor and remember what they meant to our lives and to the lives of so many others, but what about the days and weeks to follow? Where will the outpouring of sympathy and well wishes lead if we are just sitting in the back row waiting for the next time we receive that horrible gut wrenching news? I’m not naive enough to believe we will prevent every firefighter, EMT, police officer, or soldier suicide – some are just determined to ease their pain. But I do believe that there are lives to be saved if only we are willing to engage and are watchful enough to throw them a lifeline. To be mindful of changes not only in the firehouse, but in their home lives, too. To ask questions. To be genuinely engaged.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

I strongly believe there must be a change in the macho attitude that we have created for ourselves. I’m as guilty as most for feeding this monster of ego and manliness, and have kept physical and emotional pain locked away so nobody can perceive it as weakness. I wrap myself in an imagined knight’s armor of invincibility and silently pray to God that I never have that armor cracked. Knowing all to well that my armor is as fragile as an eggshell. My guess is I’m not alone in this false perception, and that many of the good people we’ve lost held onto this illusion until the very end. Why? Who are we impressing? If we are lost and disoriented, tangled in wire, or trapped under debris, do we not call a Mayday for help? Please, if you’re in need of mental rescue, call a Mayday – we will come for you!

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

Saving our mental health must become as important as saving our physical self! We train constantly on RIT, but where’s the RIT when brothers and sisters are dealing with psychological pain or injury? I’m not talking about psychiatry; I’m talking about being trained to recognize the symptoms and behaviors of pre-suicidal actions and words. Training that may help us prevent a life-shattering event and be able to help lead someone to professional help. Why isn’t this training mandatory for every firefighter? Are we not worth it?

 

We MUST do better than this.

 

One more is too many! We have made great strides over the past decade to recognize and treat first responder mental illness, but clearly more needs to be done. I am just an artist, but this artist will use his pen to help bring awareness and the conversation to every tailboard and to every kitchen table where I can! I’ve done plenty, but I MUST do more – we all must do more!

 

STAY FIRE UP, and be there for each other – we’re family!

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5 thoughts on “WE’VE GOT TO DO BETTER THAN THIS

  1. Thank you Paul, As one of the pinnacle and legendary artists in the emergency services I commend you for your courage and talent to draw what others chose not to. Why do so many say this is my “Family” yet we chose not to rely on them to listen to us, to help us, to let us help them?
    Is the fire service just another dysfunctional family?
    WE MUST DO BETTER,
    Lead by example and be the change you wish to see…
    Thank you again Paul; the need for influential people to lead the charge is the first step…
    If anyone in the service wants to talk I am listening…message me and I can give you my number.
    I AM LISTENING and WAITING for that call…

    Like

  2. Paul,
    Thanks for calling attention to a growing problem amongst us. When I read of another suicide, I ask myself questions like “did anyone notice?” and “could anything have been done?”, then I find the answer in that (at least from what I’ve seen) is we talk a good game, but follow through is dramatically short!

    As a company officer, I do my best to follow up on my crew after a particularly stressful call, I have several senior captains that do the same. Beyond that, I would say that our administration is so into bigger, better, faster and the newest, latest, greatest that they have truly forgotten about relationships.

    It is the relationship that helps us to trust one another. It is the relationship that allows us to open to one another and it is the relationship that enables us to ask for help. Whoa unto us for forsaking the relationships of our fellow firefighters for a bugle.

    Thanks for the work you do, I am a big fan!

    Gil

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My RIT was TRE®. I commented on the LI post about my experience, but I was close to being a stat. I was other stats though. You’re absolutely correct, we need to do better. We need to change our tool box. It’s not matching the problem. We need to change the culture. It’s creating the stigma. We need to address the fact that we lose more to suicide every year than heart attacks.

    We need to do better. Indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s no crying in baseball. Or EMS. Or the fire house. If you show any human emotion you are bullied out of the profession. It’s in our culture as well. Men don’t cry and if you’re a female trying to make it in an all male profession you better not cry either. We are super heroes. Puff out that chest and show no weakness. Swallow that human part. We can’t change the house until we change the culture. Until we change the culture, until we encourage vulnerability, we will go to more funerals. The only reason I’m still here is because i could never cause another paramedic the pain I feel every day. Figure out how to change the culture, I’m all ears.

    Like

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