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”

‘Never Let Your Fear Decide Your Destiny’: A letter to a friend who is struggling with addiction

by Peggy Sweeney

I know you are fearful that people will be disappointed if they learn you are an alcoholic. Most of your family members and close friends already know.

Dear friend, I think of you often. Tonight, I decided to put my thoughts on paper.

When I was in my early forties, I was a young wife and mother of three small children. Due to circumstances at that time, I planned my suicide because I thought that everyone would be better off without me. I felt hopeless. Helpless. I believed I was a failure to my children, to my husband and to everyone who loved me.

That changed one morning. I awoke determined to make something of my life. I vowed that I would never let anyone suffer alone with depression without offering them my help. Continue reading “‘Never Let Your Fear Decide Your Destiny’: A letter to a friend who is struggling with addiction”

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”