(pulsing music) - One in five Americans are diagnosed with a mental health or a behavioral disorder.
Seven in 10 of us have experienced a trauma in our lives.
We just don't talk about it.
An average law enforcement officer, the studies say, responds to over 900 traumatic incidents over a course of a career.
For firefighters, it's the same.
(pulsing music) - We become that go-to person to the entire community.
And I think we either get used to that or we don't wanna disappoint others.
And so we maintain that posture that "I can fix it, I can solve it, and I never falter."
(pulsing music) - You can go from one call and have something very traumatic.
You have a very little time and then you're on your next call and it could be something completely different but also traumatizing.
It takes a toll over time.
- 52% of our first responders have reported having compassion fatigue.
38% of our first responders are also reporting moderate to severe burnout.
- You know, there's nothing that we aren't called upon to take care of and the job stressors and the workload increase year by year.
(pulsing music) - It's embarrassing.
You don't wanna ask for help.
You know it's hard and it's like you don't even know where to start.
(pulsing music) - Our biggest officer safety factor right now is not that we're being shot in the line of duty or that we're getting in traffic crashes.
Our biggest officer safety issue is that we're dying by suicide.
(pulsing music) (siren blaring) (pulsing music fades) (birds chirping) (fire fighters chattering) - All right, good morning, everybody.
On Rescue One we're gonna have Kyle and Kate Ruth.
Squad One, it's Scotty, Lieutenant Morris here today with us and then we have Chief Leskalski.
And then on the engine, it's gonna be Stu Simpson.
- And since I became a firefighter I've always loved coming into work.
- We're just gonna start, take off.
- My father did 33 years with the department, you know, here in St. Petersburg.
It's the only fire department I have ever known.
He started showing me, you know, what the job's about.
You know, I ran some calls with him and I loved it immediately.
And I was like, that's what I'm gonna do.
And I never, you know, never looked back.
My brother is also a firefighter.
I met my wife, her name is Anne, through another firefighter.
I got two, you know, two beautiful daughters.
My oldest daughter is actually thinking of becoming a firefighter herself.
And if that happens, it'll be a third generation firefighter.
- Hey, hey, how's it going?
- One of the best things about this job is the comradery that you develop with your coworkers.
(laughter) - Are you sure?
- I've known Chris since I got on the job 21 years ago.
We were both on the C shift together.
We got along really great from early on and Chris has always been a part of my life and my personal life off the job.
Our families get along really well.
I've watched his daughters grow up.
- Most first responder agencies, it's kind of a family environment and yeah, brotherhood or sisterhood.
- Most of the people that go into the first responder field whether it's an IMT, paramedic, firefighter or a police officer, they go in that for a specific reason.
And it's always optimistic and it's like I really want to help people.
I want to make a difference.
- We're always ready to jump in, to run towards the danger.
- What people don't know about firefighters is that we're all hazards.
That, you know, they think of a firefighter and that you only go to fires.
And whether it's high angle rescue, trench rescue, extrication, hazardous materials, top water rescue, marine rescue, you know, I worked with guys that were never afraid of anything.
So I think that's admirable.
- Chris is the senior guy at our station.
He's the oldest, the eldest.
We always equate that with the wisest.
He's always made himself available to talk to anybody that wants to talk about what they saw, what we did.
And, you know, before Chris came to the master station, he was actually at the busiest fire station in the city that dealt with a lot of pain and suffering within the community.
And he saw it firsthand.
- What first responders see are some of the worst things you can imagine.
- I have seen a lot.
I've been through civil unrest.
I've had bullets fly over my head and, you know and hit the tree above me.
I've had standing right next to the people where they committed suicide.
I have seen a whole entire family wiped out in a car accident.
I've seen, you know, little boys and girls with third degree burns over, you know, 50, 60% of their body, you know, a few times.
And of course, you know, then there's, you know, the ones that are just 100% fatal, you know.
The person was never getting out.
You know, it tears you apart.
I mean, I'm only human.
I'm as human as you and everybody.
You do think about your own family, you know a lot, you know, with this job.
- I'm married to a first responder also and I can think of times when he responded to calls.
So the search for a missing child.
He was overseeing the search at that point, and he's looking at the picture of the girl that's missing.
And at that point knowing that they're not going to find her alive and all he sees in the picture is his daughter.
There are a lot of traumas that you experience in your career, sometimes back to back to back.
And those create stress on on all first responders.
And all first responders think that they are not supposed to let that affect them.
(melancholy music) - When we survive a trauma personally, we have a mind and body reaction.
But what we often forget is that when we are exposed to vicarious trauma through our work, so if we're responding as a law enforcement officer or a firefighter or we're working in medicine, we are having the same reaction.
So we actually can develop the same exact symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues purely from our work.
- So when the body is exposed to trauma it goes through usually the fight or flight stage.
So your body knows, like, if I'm in danger, I need to shut off certain parts of my body.
And it really is just focusing on that survival.
So your adrenaline raises, your cortisol levels raise and if you've had constant exposure to that trauma, your body thinks it's in that loop all the time.
And so your cortisol is much higher than typical and you don't get to do that rest digest like half of your system of your body is not working.
So that can look like really struggling to care about your job.
And that's not from a personal lack of caring.
That's from just your body being worn out to be able to care.
So some negative ways that first responders cope might be with drugs or alcohol.
We do see increased use of alcohol if somebody is experiencing compassion fatigue or that burnout or secondary trauma.
- I was drinking probably in the ballpark of 18 to 20, maybe sometimes even more pints, you know, and I never considered it a problem.
I always felt like, you know I always like to have a good time.
I was never aggressive or mean, I was never trying to pick fights with anybody.
I like to just have a good time.
And a few years ago, you know, it was starting to really take you know, an ugly turn.
- I was just feeling, you know, lonely and you know, depression was just, you know, getting worse and worse.
I wouldn't let my family help me.
Yeah, once it's there, you know, that starts becoming your new way of life.
And not only does it, you know, you know, affect, you know what's going on at home, but you know, at this home too.
you know, so I would, you know, just isolate.
You know, even here at the station.
The only time they would, you know see me would just be when the bell rings but nobody was thinking, you know, I was having issues.
I was hiding it, you know, from everybody.
- I did not know that Chris was suffering because he's very introverted and he's quiet and he prefers to listen.
And he seemingly has it all together, a loving family.
We interact with those families.
And you didn't see evidence of any sort of issue.
- When you're still by yourself and you already have, you know, negative thoughts.
It continues, you know, it doesn't stop.
- There's a lot of rumination with depression.
So there's a lot of thought cycling of if I had only done this, if I could do this, and getting stuck in that loop.
So without some kind of intervention you fall deeper and deeper into that most of the time.
- I think for most first responders, historically the culture's been one of stoicism, you know, you just kind of like suck it up and figure out how to keep going.
And you can't really blame them because they have to get back to work the next day.
And there might be another call out in a few minutes.
So how do I take time to process this?
But what happens is, down the road, it catches up.
- Back in, you know, 2019 is you know, when I hit my rock bottom, you know.
A normal full day of, you know, you know drinking alcohol and a switch turned and it came very verbal, you know, from me.
And not only did I, you know direct it just at my wife, but I started, you know directing it at my kids also.
But I would say that was probably, you know the only time, you know I ever thought, you know, I'm really, you know, considering you know, thinking, you know, they will be all right.
You know without me around.
So when I woke up in the morning, my wife was crying.
I did not realize how bad it was, you know, how bad I was until my wife started describing it to me.
How nasty and abusive I was, you know, how verbally nasty I was you know, to my family.
That's when I, you know, realized I need help.
If I just had a night like that, I don't, you know, if I start drinking again, you know, it's gonna just continue.
I really felt scared that like, that kind of a anger and aggression was gonna continue and it'd probably even get worse, you know, than that, you know, which to me was scary enough.
It's a very hard thing to, you know, to, you know to do is, you know, ask for help.
And when I did it I mean not, I mean, I started to lose it.
- When Chris called and said he had a problem.
I got together with the Center for Excellence and within probably 48 hours Chris was on a plane.
And I think he returned home about 30 or 32 days later.
- When you're in your own little world and you don't, you know think anybody else is, you know suffering.
But when you get there and you see the substance abuse, the alcohol abuse, you know, the PTSD, suicides, you know, attempts, you know, and you just sit there and you're just like, holy cow, it's a bigger problem you know, than I ever imagined.
- What we continue to find is that first responders have a stigma associated with mental health.
And it's pretty common that we very much support the idea of people getting mental health assistance, but we never really think that we need it.
- Good morning everyone.
- Good morning.
- Thank you coming.
- For those of you, I think you all know me my name is May Ross.
I am first responder ambassador for the first responder plan.
After serving, I retired in in March of 2021, and I was really trying to find a place to land.
I didn't know what it was I wanted to do.
I knew I was done with law enforcement as to put on the, the gear and go back to work.
I didn't wanna do that anymore, but I still wanted to give back.
So I was given the position of first responder ambassador, and one of my first tasks was to identify leaders and bring them together into a strategic planning group.
Some of these large agencies have funding where some of the smaller agencies, they just can't do with that.
We come together on a periodic, maybe every other month basis and we're working on a strategic plan to identify the barriers and gaps to first responder resources.
- With a department of 1,130 something people.
Ideally we'd have a hundred plus people trained in peer support.
- There's meditation, there's spirituality, talking to someone, whether it's a first responder hope line, a counselor, a family member, a spiritual advisor.
Talking through what you've experienced with someone who can relate.
And that's part of what we're doing with the Hope line is we're putting former first responders as care coordinators so that when someone calls, they are talking to someone with the same lived experience.
- Hello, you reached Frank with the Florida - The Hope Line is for people who are experiencing crisis.
It's also there for people that just need some peer support, someone that talk to.
They can be anonymous.
Most of it is a chronic trauma over a long career.
And it doesn't necessarily have to be one single event.
It'll be a culmination of many events.
It's sometimes there's one event and it's like the straw that broke the camel's back and they need to talk to someone.
- Without mental health, we don't have a healthy person in front of us.
So to have these safe, confidential research-based programs allows room for growth for that individual.
It also starts to impact the environment that they live in every day, whether that be at work or at home.
And then that does bleed into the community as well.
We might not be able to fully eliminate, you know feelings of anxiety or feelings of depression, but we can minimize their impact and only be maybe living in those areas for a short period of time.
- So that can look like mindfulness or yoga, getting in touch with and regulating our nervous system.
It can be things like neurofeedback where we actually are conditioning our brains to work more optimally so that our hyper aroused nervous system can actually calm down.
Or equine therapy where the horses reflect back our own mood.
Then we start understanding ourselves better.
- There's so much more, you know, to the job than just the, you know, the bad stuff.
And then when the bad stuff starts to weigh you down you know, there's resources out here.
Back in the day you know, I mean, I got lost, but I found myself again.
- There he is.
How you doing?
Good to see you, buddy.
- Well, he's skinnier, but he just seems happier.
He became a shift vice president for our local, which he's the shift vice president for C shift.
It's just great to have him around.
Don't be afraid to come forward.
You know, there's more resources now than there ever was.
You know, reach out to your administration, reach out to your union leadership, you know tell a coworker, you know, start the process.
You know, we find that, that sometimes people are you know, reluctant to seek help, and then they put it off.
And when they finally do receive help, they're so much happier.
- He still is a quiet guy up there in the kitchen at the dining room table.
But he's more engaging and he seems lighter in a way.
His family notices that too, when I interact with them and talk to Anne and they said, yeah, I have my Chris back and that's the Chris that she first met.
- It's amazing, you know, how much you start to remember you know, when the clarity starts to really, you know come back, look at, you know photos of my kids all the time, you know, and it just brings back so much you know, memories though.
But then you start remembering, you know, like a lot of things in that timeframe, you know?
And it's like, oh my gosh, yes.
And it's so much fun, you know and it's what's life is about.
(happy music) (laughter) - Oh, that was amazing.
He comes from Red Box and he's so excited 'cause he's looking at this soundtrack and he loves eighties big hair off.
Look at this soundtrack.
Look at these songs.
And I'm dying 'cause I know that's a musical.
- I know.
And he's, he's like the whole crew, like, yeah, that sounds like an awesome soundtrack.
Let's get this for the station.
And I'm like, do I tell them?
So we're about halfway through and I'm like, all right, it's a musical.
It's like, I didn't wanna admit it you know, but I finally, I had to.
- We finished it, so.