I’ve had an unbelievable last couple of weeks. I’m still fighting my day to day struggles with depression and PTSD but I’m making progress and I’m doing it day by day.
Still yet, writing has been a huge obstacle for me. The medication has helped me become more focused vs. wondering or lost but whenever I sit down in front of the computer, my mind seems to race in a thousand directions. That, plus I’m not sure exactly what I want to say or even more than that, how I’m going to say it. I have some strong and powerful messages to share with you and I don’t want to screw it up …. it’s that important that I tell it correctly.
We (Donna, the Buckaroo and I ) took the weekend off to do a little camping and it’s currently raining so I figured I’d try to tell ya a story or two …. follow along because there just may be a message or two hidden inside.
In a recent post titled “A Variation of OJT” (link) I wrote about catching some work and it being almost ”therapeutic” for me. Again, I say that with all due respect to the home owners and family of the house involved … we never want or find happiness in someone loosing their house / possessions.
You see, in my healing process; I’m still “searching”. I’m still looking for answers. Actually, I’m looking for (or any signs of) my brother … Jackson.
I’m still struggling with his fate and need to know that he’s somewhere at peace.
I’ve looked everywhere. Our old fort, his favorite hunting spot, fishing holes, different places we’ve been throughout our lives and even the cemetery. He hasn’t been at any of those places.
Due to my PTSD, I have reoccurring nightmares. Jackson is there and we visit a lot of my past fire scenes. All of them involve fatalities. In my mind, I figured he must be trying to tell me something through my dreams … maybe he’s somewhere on a fire scene?
Well, he wasn’t. At least he wasn’t on that last one and although I still haven’t found “what” Im looking for, I’ve maybe ruled out another possibility but my search will continue.
So, that’s why I say that fire was “therapeutic” … it was part of my “search” for answers. What I’m also finding therapeutic is talking about my struggles / experiences. I’m humbled (and HONORED) everyday to learn just how many people my postings have affected in a positive way. Rhett and I seen it first hand a few weeks ago in Albany, New York.
On September 28, 2013, we presented a seminar for The Capitol Region FOOLS. ( Learn more about F.O.O.L.S by clicking HERE )
It was a GREAT Seminar and OUR BEST YET! The event featured talks about Professional Wellness (physical and mental), Social Media for the Fire Service, Motivating Firefighters and Improving Morale.
We opened with Professional Wellness. Rhett spoke alone at first and worked his way into his view of the problems I have been facing.
He talked about his struggle in watching me spiral out of control and his battle in not knowing how to deal with, stop or correct it. He knew I needed help but wasn’t sure how to get it for me (or get me to it). It took eight months but he finally figured it out.
If we can’t save our own, how can we be expected to save those we’re sworn to protect?
He talked about not being ashamed in reaching out to get me the help I needed. He spoke about everyone not having the luxury of 8 months to figure it out or “get it right”. Most importantly, it was a life saving decision and he had the courage to make it. ( Read “When Firefighters Need Rescue” )
Then he introduced me … a SURVIVOR.
I shared my story with some detail. I have to admit, that I didn’t share 100% of my feelings / details etc but I went deep. I had to …. it was the only way to be HONEST with the story and ensure everyone in attendance understood what I was going through. What others are going through.
My part wasn’t “scripted” and I “shot from the hip”. I spoke “from the heart” and from deep within my gut. It was brutally HONEST and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room … including mine.
It was how theses stories NEED to be told. From “one of us” …. someone “believable” … someone who “KNOWS” … who has “been there” and understands.
In the end, 5 Brothers and Sisters came up to us. They shared how my postings or that day’s seminar personally touched or affected them. They shared (with tears in their eyes) how they too had (or was) experienced the same signs, symptoms, feelings etc.
That was 5 out of 40 … imagine how many Brothers and Sisters in the Fire Service as a whole are out there suffering! Wondering … lost …. feeling hopelessness and not knowing where or having the strength to reach out for help.
OUR MESSAGE IS THE RIGHT ONE AND WE’RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
If we can only reach one Brother or Sister out there needing help / direction HOW CAN WE FAIL?
It’s important to remember that ”NOT ALL WOUNDS ARE VISIBLE” and the odds are that someone you work with is affected by stress, depression and/or PTSD. You need to know the signs and symptoms as well as where and how to reach for help before you can save them and TRUST ME …. THEY NEED YOUR HELP!
Every year presents it’s challenges due to the mere size of the event but this year, due to the Government “shutdown”; our obstacles would be even greater.
Our Memorial is located on the grounds of The National Emergency Training Center (home of The National Fire Academy) which is, obviously; a Federal facility and one of the many affected by the “shut down”.
This basically meant that the grounds, and Memorial; were closed and off limits to anyone!
Preparations were underway early and arrangements made for the planned events to be moved to other locations / facilities in Emmitsburg, Md.
The Command Post (IC) was located on the grounds of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg which sits right next to the NETC. Memorial Weekend is run just like a large scale “incident” because it’s just that. It takes well over 1000 volunteers to pull off all the scheduled events.
Typically, all the volunteers are housed and fed on the grounds of the NETC but, again; due to the “shut down” this was impossible. Thankfully, there were several local Departments / Organizations who stepped up to help.
There is no way that I’m going to attempt to mention them all because I would surely miss some. With that said, there are a few that I’d like to talk about. Take Howard County (Maryland) Public Safety for example. They opened, equipped and staffed their James N. Robey, Howard County Public Safety Training Center to house many of the volunteers for Memorial Weekend (pictured above right).
Nearby Hanover County also provided a Command Bus (vehicle) which both the Production and Social Media Teams were able to utilize. Several of their members were also on hand each day to assist with the daily operations of the Weekend.
These folks prepared and served food to an army of hungry volunteers all weekend.
The Emmitsburg Volunteer Ambulance Company also opened their doors and accommodated the NFFF Offices. More than that, they hosted the IronFiremen / Fire Critic Mobile Headquarters.
Rhett and I pulled my camper down in an effort to be closer to the IC and to have a comfortable place to work out of (this was before we knew we would be getting the Howard County Command Unit).
Anyway, the camper worked out great for a comfortable place to stay as the Ambulance Company allowed us to set up next to their building in the parking lot. We had Bingo and Hot Wings on Friday night and even had a few “big names” drop by for a visit (Tiger Schmittendorf, Mike Legeros and Bill Carey just to mention a few).
During Memorial Weekend, Rhett heads up the Social Media team and coordinates everything posted via Social Media (Face Book, Twitter etc) beginning with the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery (Thursday) and ending with the Memorial Service on Sunday.
Mike Legeros was Rhett’s lead photographer and, as expected; captured some GREAT images! You can see them in the link below …
I assist Dave Statter and the Production Team during Memorial Weekend. It’s AMAZING to me to see just how much work goes into pulling it all off (speaking of the entire weekend).
One of the coolest things for me is attending the Incident Command meetings / briefings. Once again, Chief John McGrath (link) was our Incident Commander. I can only hope to some day, LEAD as this man does.
He is “matter of fact” and INSPIRING!
When all the fears of a Governmental “shut down” became a reality, he told Chief Siarnicki of the NFFF (link) that this would be “our finest moment”!
When asked how he thought we could ever “pull it off”, he said …. “With the group of Brothers and Sisters we have assembled here, HOW CAN WE FAIL?”
You should have seen it and I hope you did… either “behind the scenes” or from the front. We did EXACTLY what we were supposed to do …. We HONORED our fallen while doing the same and caring for their survivors!
There were 81 names placed on the Memorial plagues this year and thanks to the hard work and cooperation of many of our National, State and Local leaders, those families DID get to visit the Memorial!
Though for only a two hour period, the gates WERE opened and the weekend more complete.
Not everyone (meaning many of the volunteers) was able to make it onto the grounds as we had very strict guidelines to follow for this brief opening. The important thing was that the surviving families WERE able to enter and that’s what it’s all about and why those who do volunteer.
You can also read this post from Rhett over on The Fire Critic ….
I was one of the fortunate ones as I was assigned to the Keynote Speakers, Chief Dennis Compton (link) and the U.S Fire Administrator Ernest “Ernie” Mitchel (link).
One of the highlights, other than being able to see the survivors view the Memorial for the first time was to hear surviving parents Steve and Marci Vandergriend speak (pictured left).
For many (and I’m sure many others), Memorial Weekend wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the Memorial … THANKS to everyone who made it possible in 2013!
Just prior to the Memorial visit, a Candlelight Service was held as is traditional. Where typically the Service is held at the Memorial, this year it was moved into the Basilica at The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth AnnSeton .
I assume it was the location change but for some reason this year, my thoughts kept turning towards Jack.
The Service is mostly music as it sets the mood for reflection and meditation. The song selections and performers this year couldn’t have been more aptly chosen.
Again I found myself amazed at the “journeys” I’ve embarked on without even knowing at times. In the midst of work, surrounded by strangers, friends and family alike, I’m finding purpose and reasoning without even searching.
On Sunday, the Memorial Service was once again held in the arena at Mount St. Mary’s University (it has been held there is previous years, including 2012 due to bad weather).
Each name was read and each surviving family (or representative) received a folded American Flag (which had flown over both the White House and the National Memorial) and a rose.
TRADITION, PRIDE, HONOR and RESPECT … they all add up to BROTHERHOOD!
If you’d like to view the Memorial Video, it will be available at the following link for about 30 days …
I’d like to personally THANK everyone who volunteered their time and effort to make the 2013 Memorial Weekend happen. I’d also like to say how PROUD and HONORED I am to be a part of this group.
From the Command Staff, to the Honor Guard, The Pipes and Drums, the Family Escorts, Counselors, Logistics, Transportation, Communications, Production, Social Media etc …. YOU HAVE, ONCE AGAIN; ALL MADE US PROUD!
Stay SAFE and in House!