I read an incredible story, written by a local paramedic. He was off duty and became a part of an amazing rescue attempt to save a life. Unfortunately the life was lost, however his story made me think. He talked about the hurt and feelings after the rescue, how quiet the car ride home was, and how he knew his friend had the same feelings but not once did they discuss it.
I am guilt of what I am about to write about, I’ve caught myself and partner doing the same thing. I hope one day to start educating fire and EMS crews, but right now I don’t have the degree for that. Instead I will stick to sharing my thoughts here.
I don’t remember a class during my fire and EMS training that was titled “Feelings: Keep Them Hidden.” I can’t recall a time in class where the instructors lectured us on not showing emotions. And I certainly don’t recall any training on how to deal with the emotional drain this career can have on a person. Is this what leads to so many suicides within our field?
We often see things the majority of the world is spared, our eyes have seen tragedy and our hearts have felt great pain, but no one ever talks about it. Many times I have ran calls with my partner, tragic calls, but we never discuss it. We ride back to the station in complete silence then we laugh it off with other crews.
Don’t mistake our laughter for not caring, our laughter has become our way to deal with the pain. Somewhere between school ending and starting to settle into the field we learn that laughter hides the pain. They say laughter is the best medicine, but laughter can’t take it away. The memories are still there, the pain still weighs in our hearts.
Sometimes the smallest thing will bring the memories back, maybe the same smell from that horrible day. Or the sunset after that day, it looks so much like the sunset now. All the emotions and memories come flooding back, but we just laugh it off.
Often times crews I am with discuss the sick sense of humor you have to have to be able to work in this career, but they don’t mean what I thought when I first heard that. What we mean is, you have to have the ability to laugh about it so you don’t let it bother you as much, but laughing about something so tragic makes a person look crazy to the outside world. To the normal people, that live their lives unaware of the horrors in this world, our laughter is confused for not caring.
We send men and woman to fight for our country and offer them very little help when they come back. We send police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and first responders into some horrible situations, yet offer them no help to learn how to deal with the things they see. How many lives will be taken before we start educating and offering help?
The next time you see us laughing after a tragedy, please remember we are not laughing at the people, we are laughing for ourselves. We are human, we still hurt too, but to keep doing this job we must laugh it off. I remember some young kids asking how we deal with what we see and the firefighter standing next to me had the ability to explain it like no one I have ever heard.
“Each one of us has out own memory book, we take the pictures and memories of the events and file it away in that book. A book we never open willingly. We laugh then file it away, never to be opened again. Some people have books 5 inches thick and still live each day happy, while others books are only 1 inch thick and completely full. Each of us have our own limit, but you will know when that book is full. Once it is, you will know. You will know it is time to quit.”
So each of us must know our limit. You must know when it is time to stop. Once your book is full and you can no longer laugh the pain away, it is time to walk away. Don’t let this career take your beautiful life, you have done wonderful things. You were there for someone when they needed help, they will be forever grateful for that, but much like us and our feelings, they don’t always know how to show theirs. People often forget that a simple “thank you” can make us smile for weeks. A true smile, that makes this job all worth it.