There Is No Superman! The Role of the Spouse in the Fire Service

by Peggy Sweeney

Over the years, I have been very fortunate to not only instruct firefighters on coping with traumatic loss and grief, but many of their wives and family members as well. When I would ask them for comments, questions or feedback, I usually got little or no response. Understandably, because spouses are very reluctant to talk in front of their firefighters about their feelings, their fears, or what is in their heart. Many of them wonder why the warm, loving and carefree person they married does not come home like that anymore.

I know what many of you fear: your spouse, partner or family member may be struggling mentally and emotionally with the traumas of his or her job. You realize that what they see, hear and feel on a recurring basis is beginning to play a major roll in how they view life, living and their job. When the call goes well, life is good! When their best efforts to save a life or protect property from ruin do not end positively, it is a BAD DAY! Continue reading “There Is No Superman! The Role of the Spouse in the Fire Service”

Five Questions on Department Mental Health Every Fire Chief Should Review

by Peggy Sweeney

The job of a fire chief is never easy. Whether you lead a volunteer company of 10 or a career department of several thousand, your bottom line is, or should be, the physical safety and mental and emotional wellness of your men and women.

I ask each of you as leaders of your department to take a step back and candidly review your attitude about the mental and emotional wellness of your department:

peer abuse… any figure of authority or power which may use intimidation as a primary means of motivating others… could rightfully be referred to as a bully” —Bullying/Wikipedia

1. Do you criticize or shun a firefighter because he or she struggles with the emotional aftereffects of traumatic calls? Do you turn a deaf ear when members of your department make fun of or bully them (also known as “peer abuse”)?

The mantra “suck it up and go on” is a cliché of the past. Continue reading “Five Questions on Department Mental Health Every Fire Chief Should Review”

When Serving Becomes Surviving: PTSD and Suicide in the Fire Service

by Peggy Sweeney

Author’s Note: This article was previously published on the Grieving Behind the Badge website which has since been closed. Some information has been updated, but the overall article is noteworthy.

While watching a news report about a major apartment fire with many casualties including several children, I became aware of a group of professionals who regularly experience grief and traumatic stress; specifically, the men and women who serve their communities as firefighters. In spite of their dedicated service to their communities, few people in the civilian world are aware of, or seem to be concerned about, their physical, mental, and emotional struggles. Soon after that newscast, I outlined the Grieving Behind the Badge program and set my sights on offering help. I had expertise in grief and loss, but that did not prepare me for the obstacles before me. Continue reading “When Serving Becomes Surviving: PTSD and Suicide in the Fire Service”