It’s New Year’s Eve 2013 and I’ve never looked more forward to putting a year behind me than I am right now. Those of you who have followed this site know the struggles I’ve faced since December 30, 2012. It hasn’t been easy!
Typically, for my “Year End” post, I recap my favorite or “most popular posts” from the previous year. To be honest, my postings for 2013 have been “scattered” at best. That, in addition to the fact that I didn’t do a 2012 year end post (due to the circumstances) is resulting in my taking a different route this year.
A new approach only seems fitting as today is the first day of our new “look” here at Ironfiremen.com. We literally went live with the new look just hours ago so it’s still a “work in progress” but, I hope you’ll like the changes. All the links will remain the same and you can still find us at your usual spots. I still need to do a little work on our Face Book account and build a larger following so if you’re not already following us (the web site, not me personally) on Face Book, PLEASE use the link below to “Like” and “Get Notifications” … If you ARE following us there already, PLEASE share the link and invite your friends to follow us as well. I appreciate the support!
My dad (retired from the job with just under 30 yrs) found him that night. I can’t imagine …
Dad called me and I got there QUICK. They had cut Jack down and awaited my arrival. By the time I arrived, there was a hearse backed up to the door. There were several people on scene and I’m not sure how many I knocked down to get inside. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. His body was neatly laid on that cold, concrete floor.
With almost 23 years on the job (many of which spent in the busiest companies of our City) I had seen death. I have seen it in MANY, MANY ways but, I had also seen more than death. I’d seen pain, hurt, hunger, poverty and so much more. I’d seen it in the young, old and all of the “in between”. I knew the sights … the sounds and the smells but this was different.
This was not an accident. It wasn’t a car wreck or an act of violence by someone else’s hand. This wasn’t a stranger I was looking at … it was my brother laying there … it was JACKSON and I knew what I was seeing. He was dead. What I didn’t know was why.
Later that night, after they gave me some time alone with him; I helped place him into the body bag (although I wouldn’t let them close / zip it shut) and loaded him into the hearse. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I never got to thank the Sheriff’s Deputies, Fire/Rescue members and/or Funeral Home workers who allowed me that time and honor (even though I don’t think I gave them an option). I hope they now know and understand.
The next few days, weeks and month were hard … VERY HARD. Rhett had to put a post up here and there to let you folks know I was still here but in reality, I was far from “ok”. On the outside, I was “building a wall” and covering up as much as I could to mask the hurt and pain. Despite not having x-ray vision, your support, prayers and messages of support never wavered.
I was “Searching for a New Normal” (click for a link to previous post) and trying to get back into my boots. Click HERE to read ” A Firefighter’s Boots” . I didn’t know it but I was wondering aimlessly.
I was LOST … “Lost” in “Zero Visibility” (click for the link) and needing rescued my self ( Click HERE to read “When Firefighters need Rescue” ) .
I didn’t understand it but I was working my way into and through the grieving process. Grieving is a unique process to us all and I got stuck on DEPRESSION. A one time Paramedic (NREMT-P), I never even knew what “DEPRESSION” was… not the true meaning anyway. I HAD NO IDEA! It was debilitating … paralyzing even. Depression had taken over and was controlling me.
I wasn’t eating and I was drinking … I was drinking bourbon and A LOT OF IT!
My local Department was (is) ignorant. They didn’t have a clue (they still don’t). They hadn’t a clue as to what was going on or how to handle it (or me) for that matter. Maybe they didn’t want to. It was just me after all …right? What’s one member out of nearly two- hundred?
I was skipped for promotion to Battalion Chief again. This time (the 7th), they even promoted a member around me who had been on the job for less time than I had been a Captain within the Department (this is not including my time as a Lt. and 1st Lt). Restrictions were placed on me for sick leave “abuse” and I was told to suck it up and “do your job”. I didn’t want to work anymore. I was done.
I had lost all hope. The job, and the farm were crumbling away. PTSD had set in and I was having nightmares. Jackson came to me every night and, together; we’d ride my childhood mini-bike around to all the “bad” calls I had stored inside my mental filing cabinet… the calls I had “stored away” to forget about over time.
It’s wasn’t a good trip / ride. We would ride to and re-live all the fatalities I’d seen like we were actually there again. Jack would ask me questions about each one and I would have to answer. I couldn’t shield my little brother from the things I had seen and witnessed… we were THERE.
I could see them like they had just happened. I could smell those “smells” we often encounter…. they were so real I could taste them when I woke up. I’d awake screaming, crying, in another room, outside in the yard or just anywhere in the house puking. I eventually quit sleeping. I didn’t want to see it anymore.
My struggle hurt those around me … near and far. I wasn’t talking about it. Nobody “knew” what I was going through or how bad it had gotten. It was our culture … the Fire Service Culture. I couldn’t ask for help and didn’t need it in the first place … right? I’m a FIREMAN …. we are the ones who GIVE the help. Stuff like this doesn’t bother us … we see it every day! DEPRESSION??? Ha… that’s for PUSSIES! I didn’t talk about it.
My friends, followers and family were grieving too but I wouldn’t let them grieve “with” me. I wouldn’t let them “in”. I wouldn’t talk about what I was going through. Helping me could have been part of their healing process but I never let that happen. Watching me slowly kill myself was killing them (you) as well. I didn’t see it.
Killing myself was exactly what I was doing whether I knew it or not. It got to the point where I did. I wasn’t finding the answers I was searching for. I couldn’t eat, sleep and I had secluded myself from everyone I loved and who cared about me. The only way I knew to find those answers and to stop the pain was to go find Jackson .. to ask him face to face … to find out for myself.
I decided to do just that. I decided to go “find” him… and, like him; I wasn’t being “selfish” or taking the “cowards way out” … it was the only way I could see out of this…I thought it was my only option. Of all the thoughts racing through my head, I never thought once about my family or friends and the effect such an act would have on them. I wasn’t looking at it that way. I couldn’t see past the jumbled thoughts in front of me. I didn’t see it because I couldn’t. My mind wasn’t “right”… I wasn’t thinking straight. I WAS SICK…. I was suffering from a mental illness…. I still am.
Thankfully for me, Rhett (FireCritic.com) had figured it all out. It took him several months but he finally was able to step in and he made it just in time! I was lucky. Not many of us suffering from a mental illness have the time I was given to “figure it out”. Many also don’t have (or know that they do have) the resources Rhett and I did.
I got help. Some I needed, some I didn’t. I even went “in the system” and learned as I went. It was a difficult journey for me. It isn’t over yet. I’m just now considering myself a survivor yet I’m still healing. I’m still finding my way and searching through the smoke.
It has been difficult for me to collect my thoughts, much less take the time and energy to put them to paper (or keyboard as in this case). This site, which was once a growing passion has faded and dwindled. The blog, Ironfiremen.com; will never be the same as I, it’s writer and creator stands forever changed. I hope that the few posts I was able to get up during 2013 made an impact on someones life.
Early on (in 2013), it became my intent to share my story and start a cycle of CHANGE. It was way past the time to change the stigma and “macho” image associated with our profession. WE ARE NOT IRON FIREMEN … WE ARE HUMAN! We feel and we HURT. At times, we too need help and even rescued.
I wanted my readers (both of them …as well as the remaining firefighters all across the Country) to know that it’s ok to NOT be “ok”. It’s ok to hurt…. to NOT like something you’ve seen or had to do. It’s OK to need, want and to have to ask for help. I wanted you to know that none of this makes you (us) less of a firefighter. You can NOT see the things we see or do the things we do on a daily basis and NOT be affected by it. I wanted you to know that you are not alone in this struggle.
That ended up being my direction or goal for 2013. I think I made a good attempt at it. I know I still have a ways to go and I’m not about to let up now. I do however need to stop here and add that I didn’t make it through 2013 alone. Obviously, my family and Rhett played a huge role in my survival thus far but many more of you did as well.
The NFFF (National Fallen Firefighters Foundation), Dave Statter, Zach Green ( MN8 FoxFire), Shannon Pennington (North American Firefighters Veteran Network), Peggy Sweeney (Sweeney Alliance) , Chris Naum (Buildings on Fire), Bill Carey and EVERYONE else who called, sent messages, e-mails etc were instrumental in my progress thus far.
In my attempts to get back into my boots and to find that “new normal” I ventured outside the comforts of home. I tried to get back outside and do some of the thing I once loved. I got to see many old friends and made just as many new ones along the way. I’ve also started to lecture / speak (along with the Fire Critic, Lt Rhett Fleitz) on the topic of Mental Health and Wellness (as well as many other topics). Our talks get into much more detail than this post and is certain to aid ANY Department. If you’d like to have us speak at your event / Department, use the link below to contact us for more information…
I made several of the bigger “Trade Shows” with my MN8 FoxFire Family last year. At each one, I was greeted by friends and followers offering their condolences, sympathy and support. Many even brought special gifts that I will cherish forever.
Erin and Stephen Foster (Ayden’s Gifts) broke my heart and brought me to tears at our Fire Critic / Ironfiremen Meet-Up at FDIC 2013 in Indy.
They had designed and created this special gift for me in honor of Jackson’s memory. They presented it to me as a hundred or so friends and fans looked on.
It was a very emotional moment for me as I’m sure it was was for the many others in attendance.
Having suffered a loss of their own, I will never forget what Erin and Stephen did for me. How they opened their arms of comfort and embraced me as only those who know can. Help me THANK them by visiting there sites listed in the links below…
More than friends, Andrew and Mary have been long time supporters of me and Ironfiremen.com. I don’t know why, but they have always been there for me.
They have given me several special gifts over the past few years but I wasn’t expecting what they gave me at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore this year.
They (Box Alarm Leather) constructed me a set of custom suspenders. Custom in that they sewed a picture of Jackson (along with a special message) inside the leather back. They explained that this way, even on the job; I would / could always carry him with me! Again I was brought to tears in front of many. I LOVE THESE TWO and you will too. Give them a chance at any and all of your leather needs. Check em out at the link below ….
Find Box Alarm Leather on Face Book by clicking HERE !
Jodie sent me several prints but the one I cherish the most is the one she done of me and Jack.
She didn’t have a picture to go by so I guess she just took a couple of our individual photos and combined them into what she seen in her head.
She captured us BEAUTIFULLY.
I use this picture often in my posts and it sits by my bed at home (so I see it every night and morning). Like the others I’ve mentioned…. I don’t know how I can (or will) ever repay her. It’s a one of a kind drawing!
Again I’ll say that as difficult and dark as 2013 has been for me, I’ve also received MANY, MANY great gifts and BLESSINGS . The biggest of all however has been your continued support and friendship along with family.
Speaking of family, I guess that’s the blessing that “takes the cake” or “tops the list” for 2013. The Buckaroo’s mom, my youngest daughter Reba; gave me a 2nd healthy grandson this year. Not only that, she gave the Buckaroo a little brother to look after and grow up with. I can’t wait to see the adventures these two will have together!
On September 21, 2013 Wyatt JACKSON Blankenship came into this world @ 8lbs 1.2oz. Once again, my life was changed forever. I can only hope I’m worthy of these blessings and chances I’ve been given.
I also hope to grow this site. Here at Ironfiremen.com as well as through my Face Book account and other Social Media outlets. It’s my hope to continue to share a positive message and pass along a little of what I’ve learned throughout my life and career with those choosing to listen and / or follow in my foot steps.
Ours is a noble profession / calling yet not meant for everyone. Those of us who have answered the call are a rare breed and the only ones who can truly understand the sacrifices we all make.
I want to THANK you all for the friendship and for being loyal followers of the site. I can’t believe you stuck around through this past year. I vow to attempt to make your efforts worth while and continue my direction and focus here at Ironfiremen.com.
Please help me in doing so by “Liking” and “Sharing” this and all my postings (as well as out Face Book pages). Our new look should make that a lot easier for ya. I wish you all a SAFE and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I look forward to getting back out in 2014 … I’ll give ya our schedule in the next day or so.
Until I get back … stay SAFE and in House!!