Last month I was in Chicago to attend both Fire-Rescue International and’ Safety Health & Survival Section’s membership meeting. After a long day of events, I hailed a taxi back to my hotel. My taxi driver was more talkative than most others I’ve encountered, and I was more fatigued than usual after a long day of meetings. He asked me what I did for a living, and I answered that I’ve spent 24 years as a chief officer in Broward County, Fla. His response: “I bet you have seen a lot.”
The driver’s questions brought to mind some painful experiences: a young family returning from a holiday-lights display killed by a drunk driver, a newly engaged couple — rose still in hand — trapped in their vehicle, children ejected and killed in a rollover. But it also brought back some good memories: aiding in successful childbirths, helping and calming severe young asthmatics who were convinced they were going to die, watching a colleague who suffered a traumatic double amputation and a life-threatening hypovolemic shock not only survive but thrive.
This taxi driver, a young man of foreign descent, understood that fire and emergency-service professionals serve the public through the most adverse of times and tragedies. Our mission was, is and will continue to be serving others, experiencing the joy of success and the agony of tragedy along the way.
What taxi driver didn’t ask — and what public safety is asking itself — is where we go from here. These events take a toll on responders, but fire-service culture often dictates that responders just move on and handle the next order of business. But that isn’t enough.
Much emphasis is being place on behavioral health. While in Chicago, two well-respected colleagues and fire chief officers of metropolitan departments shared with me their recent experiences with firefighter suicides. Fire leadership must continue to become more sensitized to the impact of exposures and to the need for behavioral-health support systems.
Broward County expanded its partnership with our university system, which has a psychology program with an emphasis on first responders. Graduate students developed educational and healthy coping mechanisms, as well as resource awareness in a program of behavioral-health peer training. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation also has developed contemporary resources aimed at addressing these challenges for public-safety providers.