Articles, Blog

The Firefighters’ Rescuer


(quick tempo piano music) (siren wails) – The modern firefighter
gets called for everything. Our job is all about
interaction with the public and interaction on their worst day. I’ve been a professional
firefighter for 29 years. Do you feel faint at all? Seeing that level of human
tragedy, the car accident or a shooting or a
murder, it takes a toll. You have to put up a
front because you might go right back out again. The stuff that’s going on
with you right now are typical of a car wreck. And the idea is that you want
to be able to do your job. That’s the mantra, I’m
good to go, I’m ready. Like they say in the Marine
Corps when you’re ready to go out and do another job, good to go. I am in 100 different kinds of distress. Stuff is coming back to
me from Desert Storm, some stuff from childhood,
are starting to surface, and I’m doing everything I
can to keep it tamped down. If you’re a police officer,
or a firefighter, or a first responder of any
kind, you will see things that you can’t unsee. We ignore it, but they’re
ticking time bombs, and if we don’t learn ways to deal with
that stress, to work with that stress, eventually it’s
all going to catch up to you. And I’ve been that guy. I’ve been that guy up until the point that it almost killed me. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was the Healthy Baby of Hawaii 1965. Yeah, I was all that back then. Then after high school, I
joined the Marine Corps. When I transitioned from
active duty, I went right into the fire department, and
at the same time went into the Marine Corps Reserve. I have four combat tours:
Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Bosnia, and
then Iraq and Afghanistan. As I went along in my
journey, my daughter went into the Army, and my son
went in the Marine Corps, and I was at work on June
14th, 2008, and as I’m putting on my gear, I heard my friend
say, “You’re out of service.” And just then I saw two
Marines pull up, and they said, “We regret to inform you
that your son has been killed “in action in Afghanistan.” And from there, things kind
of just went to a blur. I was running away from
dealing with my problems. I was drinking a lot, my
marriage was ending, suicidal. I was reaching my breaking point. (motorcycle starts) And you look for those
things that are going to keep you going for another day. Sometimes they don’t make sense. Sometimes it’s my coworkers,
what are they going to think? What happens if I am the one who suicided? (footsteps crunching) It got me to this point where I finally started getting help. Without these outside influences
saying, “Mike, you need “some help; Mike, you need
to take care of Mike,” that I probably wouldn’t
be here right now. I don’t want another firefighter
to be in this situation where I was. The way to do that was
to just lay myself out, and just say, “Here it is.” We’re going to talk a
little bit about the Seattle Fire Department’s Critical
Incident Stress Management Team, and what we do. The goal of this team
is to keep firefighters, and our paramedics, in the fight. To help them relieve the
stress by talking through some of the stressful
incidences that they’ve been on as a means to keep them
on the job and healthy. – When they hear Mike’s story
in the beginnings of their careers, it starts to tell
them from day one that it’s okay, we know you’re going to
be stressed out, but if you are, and you are having some
challenges, we have some tools for you that’s going to
help you through this. That’s so important
for us as a profession. – In March of 2014, a
massive mudslide affected the communities of Oso and Darrington. When I pulled up, houses
as far as I could see were not there, they had disappeared. 43 people were killed during the slide. Some of our firefighters lost
family members during the event, so it was very traumatic. Because of the mudslide, I had
some emotional issues, lost confidence in my ability to
lead, had marital difficulties. Talking to Mike made me
go down a better road than I might have otherwise chosen. This is a guy that understands
exactly where I’m at because he’s already been there. He’s gone through this, so I trust him. Here, look at my tattoo. – That’s another good one. – Semper fi, Mack. My son was with two seven
in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doing this confidentially, I
think it would lack the impact. I’m a better person, I’m a
better counselor, I’m a better firefighter because I’m able
to say those things out loud. I’d like to get you up to the
hospital and get you hydrated in a nice bed, a nice, safe spot. That is the most important
thing, is to get that word out to every firefighter on every
fire engine, and let them know this doesn’t have
to be you, that it’s okay to talk about it. That’s the first line of defense. Alright, semper fi. Yes, sir.
Be well. Alright.
(lift whines) (energetic music)

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