Melt Down

It’s been one month since my brother (Jack) choose to take his own life on December 30th.

I wrote about some of the effects it had on me over the past few weeks in two posts… read “Searching for a new normal” and “A Firefighter’s Boots”.

Writing those posts proved to be very therapeutic for me. The support I received following the “Boot” post was nothing short of amazing. Thanks to a simple idea and photo from a good friend and fellow Firefighter, Nate Camfiord;  pictures of firefighter’s boots from all over the world began to fill my mail boxes. It was very humbling and I can’t say THANK YOU enough.

I had decided to return to duty on the following Sunday (Jan. 20th) but, due to Departmental policy; wasn’t able to. It’s a good thing though because I wasn’t ready … I’m not 100% sure that I am now but I’m trying.

I got released for duty last week but decided to go ahead and take some previously scheduled vacation time.

I had scheduled these dates back at vacation sign-ups to travel to Florida with Zach Green and my MN8 FoxFire family  but, after Jack’s death; I told Zach that I would not be able to make the trip.

He understood, said it wasn’t a problem and for me not to worry. In a later conversation, he made me a great offer. He said “come to Florida anyway” … not to work but to “get away” for a bit. A change of scenery. Some time to “clear my mind” and rest. It was something I felt I needed but didn’t want to leave my dad. Well guess what …. dad went too.

We left the cold and snow behind to find sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures in Daytona. That’s the 1st “melt down” I’ve encountered lately.

I ended up putting my boots and Bunker Kilt on to help Zach and the team at Fire-Rescue East 2013. I just couldn’t lay by the beach / pool all day knowing they were working their butts off due to being short staffed.

I was glad I did. I met some great folks down there. He had some fantastic conversations. There were plenty of hand shakes, hugs, kisses. Some of us even cried together. It was very emotional for me but again … something I needed.

I got home and decided to attend another function I had cancelled following Jack’s death. The Lexington Fire Department (Va) is where dad began his service in the Fire Department and I had been invited to speak at their annual awards banquet and dinner (a huge honor for me).

Like Zach, Chief Ty Dickerson understood back when I told him I didn’t think I could make it. The worst part about it was that he didn’t have time to get a replacement. He too told me  “don’t worry about it”.

Well, I made the dinner and I spoke. I’m not even sure what I said but I got up there. There were so many things I wanted to say. So many topics. So much that needed (and needs) to be said and I missed em all. Everyone came up afterwards to shake my hand and thank me for the speech.  Some called it motivational and empowering. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

My mind has been going in a hundred different directions, at a hundred miles an hour and, most of the time these past 30 days; I’m not even sure I knew where I was.

I can’t think straight. I still feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. My stomach is in a knot and I can hardly eat.

All the talks, my writing, putting my boots on and getting back “out there” wasn’t the cure….


Don’t get me wrong when I say it’s not the cure because IT IS HELPING. Opening up, talking and sharing my grief is what has been the most therapeutic. It’s also the part I feared the most.

I’ve never been good at it and it’s always been “taboo” in the Fire Service anyway. It’s time for all of that to CHANGE. We (firefighters) are HUMAN. We have feelings and we  can “hurt”. That’s the part we need to learn … that it’s “ok” . It’s “ok” to have and show emotion. We need to learn how to deal with emotion and stress in a more healthy manner. After (or while) I learn, I’ll share it with you.

Last night, I had a melt down … a big one.

My mom and sister were staying with me here at the house. We, along with my daughter and wife; were having a discussion. We were talking about Jack’s death and many of the surrounding issues. I became very emotional and they (my emotions) began to pour out of me. I say “they” because there are several  …. one of them being anger.

Yes, feeling ANGER is one of the “stages” of the grieving process and I have plenty of it.

Regretfully, I let it out last night… I couldn’t stop it … I wish I had.

I’ve been talking to folks about some of my fears and other feelings but I haven’t shared my anger with anyone yet. I’ve been hiding it and that was a mistake. It should have come out in a different setting. In a different manner.

I’m sure they felt my anger was directed toward them … IT WASN’T.

It’s Jack I’m mad at … at Jack and myself and for many reasons.

Feeling anger is just one of the steps (stages or phases) of the grieving process. Depending on who you talk to, there are 5 to 7. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we all grieve differently and there is no prescribed order to the process.   “Our grief is as individual as our lives”.

From what I’ve learned, the stages are as follows …

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
  • Pain and Guilt
  • Reconstruction

You can learn more about the “Stages of Grief ” at the following web sites ….,   Recover from The Sweeney Alliance, Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, North American Firefighter Veteran Network

Everything I’ve done to this point are just small steps on my way to recovery … to my “new normal”. I will NEVER be “the same” again but I will learn to be happy. I’ll learn to survive and function without my little brother but it’s gonna take some time. I know that.

Tomorrow morning, I will report for full duty. It’s going to be a difficult tour for me but, my brothers and sisters will be there to help me along and they wont let me fall. In return, I’ll be there for them. They’re grieving too and together, we’re gonna get through this.

THANKS AGAIN for all the support (calls, comments, e-mails etc)!

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines

  • BennyC

    I’ve gone and am currently going through a similar situation. I was diagnosed with PTSD and severe anxiety depression disorder. It appears judging from your articles they are very similar. I’ve made it through the bad stages (hopefully) and am currently in the reconstruction phase. Sometimes I fell like I will regress and that’ll be it for me. Other days I feel like I can take on the world. Some guys at the house seem to question me at times and I blame myself for not telling them. Nobody wants to seem weak especially in the fire seervice. I too have experienced the brotherhood and truly is a great feeling. I just hope I don’t let everyone down. I’m doing my best to keep the fire service mentality but sometimes I feel like an imposter. How can I give my input on the job when I’m currently not doing it? I share stories and training tips and I feel like some of the “brothers” are getting angry over it. I never expected to be going through something like this in my early twenties. It’s quite an experience. Sorry for the rant and good luck!

  • Chief 62

    Captain Wines, your brother from the north side has been following your updates with compassion and understanding. You my friend and those that know me can vouch I do not use that term lightly have been able to provide too thousands of others thru your life altering experience “courage for many”. One of the constants whenever a loved one does the unexpected is close family support, they will understand the lashing out, bottled up anger and disbelief you are carrying as they love you, just remember they are also hurting, not only for you.

    I am always amazed at the reference I hope I don’t let them down,we macho firefighters et all, can handle anything right! why because your hurting and trying to regain your near normal as it will be compass. One of the few things I least like about our beloved fire service is false expectations, if you were a real man its always said suck it up and move on. Really I always comeback with, until one has walked in those shoes, in our case boots one will never know or understand. Why is it not okay for “real men” to cry, express grief & anguish,need support, need to be loved, who wrote these ridiculous rules and expectations anyways and how dare they judge!

    In my 39 years in the Fire/Ems service having run literally thousands of calls, one call still sticks out for me, one of the worst runs you could imagine. It was a Christmas eve cardiac arrest call, no vitals,recently retired Lt. the whole crew knew him same shift with his large family all present, daughters your age tugging on my coat around the xmas tree with grown men rescuers trying to hold it together to get thru the code. Things were less than perfect, this was a long run time into second due with a dispatch snaffu included. Willie, anger, dismay,sadness, every feeling of emotion,Christmas, family first, second family all hoping for that rare save miracle. Thankfully the medic crew involved had no emotional attachment and carried the event. My driver and I sat in the pump outside the house for several minutes while I tried to regain some form of composure, my other two went with the medic unit. The senior member and I were most affected of the 4 of us. I cried, pounded on the dash, wanted to scream outside at the injustice of it all, in the end was it just another call as so many were quick to judge us, I truly think not. This call was 16 years ago and yet I remember every second like instant recall. This was my tip point of the filing cabinet when no more could be stored. Was I ashamed, not at all, it was a clearly defining moment in my life, I made a promise to try to do for the rest of my service life the best I could, be humble, be respectful, be compassionate, be true to myself, help other brothers in distress, yes its far from the way it sounds, weak as some would call it. It takes pride,courage,committment and true compassion to help ourselves, we are the only ones able to connect all the dots.

    Judging by the posts, tweets and commentary Willie I’d say you have greatly touched a lot of lives. Humility in the common man is sometimes in short supply, that is not a trait I have any fear you will be shortchanged with. On a lighter note what are you and the Buckaroo going to do with the tractor without the cattle, a part of you and the blog we come to know as you have intertwined your work life and home life for all of us.

    It is an enormous challenge you have ahead of you, as one of the other posters stated somedays you will feel ready to kick butt and others want to withdraw, healing is individual we all take our own path, its how we as individuals are wired. You take the best pathway you find my friend, were all pulling for “ya”, “eh”! A lower 49th saying and above the 49th together. Stay Safe, Godspeed to internal peace. Jack

    • Looks like I’m gonna have to get a passport. THANK YOU again Brother!

  • I like how you say your “new normal” because that’s oh so true. Sending big Canadian hugs your way. And our door is always open.

  • Chief 62

    I hope your going to be able to get to FDIC and we’ll get to share a CDN brew with each other, swap hugs and maybe just get a bit of time with one another. If my bearings are straight you might have climbed back on the engine. I’ll see if perhaps we can find a venue for you to come to Canada and give one of them motivational presentations you and Rhett do so well, have to see if my budget could afford you guys (lmao). Seriously my friend, one day at a time and easy does it will work. Our temp at present Willie currently -44 celcius, just a little cooler than Roanoke and a bit more snow. My passport was just renewed so no worries. Luv ya man, keep well, April’s just around the corner.

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