A firefighter's boots

Our boots are one of the seemingly simplest tools we have as firefighters yet they each have a story to tell.

Maybe you have to be a firefighter to understand but for most of us on the job, we can look at a brother or sisters boots (and how they wear them) and learn so much about the person wearing them.

Shined or scuffed. Tall or short. Laces or zippers. Station wear or structural.  By the rig or inside the cab. Bunkers over or separated from our pants.  By the bed at night or out in the bay. We depend on our boots… they get us to the job and have been there for every one … good and bad.

I’ve been in a dark place following my brother’s death two weeks ago and my boots continue to consume my thoughts. You can tell by just the few examples I gave above that we have many options (or choices) when it comes to our boots. One of the biggest however is the one I didn’t mention and the same one I’m facing now … knowing when (and how) to put them back on or to just hang them up.

I’ve been open and emotional here on the site before but not to the extent that I was in my previous post (or at least I don’t think so). The response was very positive and to be honest, it was also very therapeutic for me so I think I’ll try it again.

I’ve never been in this place (or any like it) before and I don’t like it. I can’t figure it out or “fix it” quickly and it’s not a position I’m used to or comfortable with. I’m still dazed and feel lost. I can’t sleep, keep food down and even find it difficult to draw a full breath. I get out of bed every day feeling as if I’ve been kicked in the gut. I’ve walked a million miles these past two weeks searching for answers or some sort of closure or peace but even these boots can’t get me far enough from the pain for me to function as I should.

Some of my friends are telling me to get back to work … get back to a “routine” and whats “normal”. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet or if I’ll ever be. It used to be that I had a farming and firehouse life. Last week, I sold all my cattle and I haven’t been to the firehouse since Jack’s death.  For the first time in my career, I’m nervous scared to go to work. I’m scared of what I’ll have to face and question my courage or ability to push through it.

I worry about facing the guys. I know this sounds “petty” but it bothers me. What will I say to Phil or Lynn when I walk in the door? What will they say to me? I know that right now, I’d break down in tears and I don’t want to do that … not at the station. Maybe they will break down? I don’t want that either.

They have to be wondering what to say to me. What can they say? Nothing they come up with will make it any easier for me (although appreciated). I’ll see their pain in knowing that I’m still hurting. I do and will know that they want to and are willing to share in that pain but still cant stand the thought of placing that burden on them.

Then, the seven o’clock bell will hit and the other members will emerge from the bunk room and we’ll have to relive the situation all over again. The event will unfold time and time again throughout the day as we converge with other companies. Maybe there wont be any conversation … just that awkward silence because nobody knows what to say.

I’ll be the guy who stops all conversation by simply entering the room. My presence will affect our members, their mental status and maybe even their ability to perform their duties because of it. I don’t want to be “that guy” either.

I also worry about the incidents that I’ll respond to and if I’ll be able to function after arriving. I’ve NEVER doubted my ability to do the job … until now. I’m not sure how I’ll react on certain types of incidents. More specifically, I worry about running suicides,  “Code Blues” (CPR),  and any other type of fatality we may encounter. What if I “break down” while on the scene? In someone’s home… in front of their family. We are there to assist with their crisis, not bring more into it.

I’ve seen death throughout my career … a lot of it. I’ve seen it from new borns to elderly and from many mechanisms. As firefighters, we’ve all seen things that nobody should have to. I know that there is no “illusion” to death. It’s (their) face(s) has continued to visit (haunt) me over the years. I’ve always been able to move it “somewhere” in the back of my mind, to “file it away” and move forward … even when they hit “close to home”. This is different.

When our girls were home, Donna; (my wife) always knew when I had run an incident involving a child. We’ve never talked about them but she’d get a call at whatever time in the late night / early morning. I’d have her go to our girls bedroom, look in on them and tell me they were ok. I’d have her do it while I was on the phone. I heard it, I knew that they were ok and that I could move on through the rest of the tour. This time, there’s nobody to call and it’s not ok.

Of everything I’ve experienced and witnessed throughout my life and career, NOTHING can compare to what I had to do on December 30th. This was more than “close to home” … this WAS HOME. We were at Dad’s house and that was Jackson laying in front of me. JACKSON! I don’t want to see anymore.

Maybe my “file cabinet” is full. Maybe this file is simply too big to fit inside. Either way, I’m having trouble putting this one away. Maybe I don’t want to. How can I put Jack into “that” file cabinet anyway? Into “that” place in my mind? I know I’ve  got to figure it out because I can’t keep going on like this. I need and want for my mind to slow down. For me to be able to focus and move forward.

I know that part of the reason that I’m in the condition I am is because I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet. What I’m “searching” for. I know what it is … it’s very specific and I’m not sure it will happen. I want it to … I need it to. I’m not ready to share it with all of you yet but I know that if I find it … if I get this answer, I can go on.

I’ll say here that I’ve had a ton of support (my entire family has). The e-mails, comments etc have been heart felt and therapeutic in themselves. THANK YOU … THANK YOU …THANK YOU! I’ve even had several therapists and professional counselors reach out…. everyday they’ve helped me. I’ll include some links at the bottom once again. If you haven’t already … CHECK THEM OUT. When you go to the Sweeneyalliance, be sure to sign up for their newsletter “Grieving Behind the Badge” .

So, once again; writing this has helped and I’m thankful to have this outlet. My Chief (and Department) has been VERY understanding and supportive. He’s told me to take as much time as I need knowing that neither of us could know how long that may be. Well, after writing this; I think it’s time to try. I think I’ll return to duty on Sunday and see if I can get back into my boots. Get back into my boots and “do work”. To see if I can still make a difference … hopefully, a positive one.