Opening up

For those of us “on the job”, it’s a fairly common term.

We use it when talking about forcing entry into a structure or cutting a ventilation hole in the roof. Sometimes it’s even used  for vehicle extrication (using the “jaws of life” to cut open a car).

More often than not, it’s a “Truckie” term ( a firefighter assigned to a Ladder truck) although sometimes, due to today’s staffing issues; an Engine Company can be assigned these tasks.

I’ve been thinking about “opening up” and the various meanings of the term a lot here lately …. as related to the job and emotionally.

Today, I’m working an extra shift. I’m paying back a Brother (Tim Cady) who worked a day for me last week.

I’m pulling the tour at Station #1 (aka “The Big Show”) on A-shift. I’m riding the seat of the Ladder.

It’s a brand new Pierce, 100′ tiller and with a price tag of 1.2 million, she’s a sweet ride.

I spent my younger years in the Department assigned to a Ladder ….. it was  good, honest work. I’ve learned a lot since then. Truck work made me a good fireman. I’d like to think I’m older and wiser now but some will argue that.

I’ve been assigned to an Engine Company since I made Captain back in 2000. On the Engine, I’m thinking about size ups, water supply and getting to the fire.

Riding the Ladder, my thought process has to change just a bit. Today, I’m thinking about placement, forcible entry, search, rescue, ventilation, salvage, overhaul and even extrication.

“Opening up” is a priority for me and the A-Shift crew today. Opening up so so the Engine guys can get on the fire. Opening up to ventilate. Opening up to make our searches or opening up vehicles for extrication purposes.

The rig I’m riding is perfect for the job. It’s a 1.2 million dollar tool box. Everything we need to do our job … to “open up” is stored away nice and neat inside her.

It sounds difficult but it’s not. It’s all we know … it’s what we do. The other type of opening up however … the emotional opening up … that’s not so easy.

My absence from postings and social media has been pretty obvious lately.  In a recent post, “Climbing Out”; I shared with you that I am just reaching the “depression” stage of my grief (or PTSD) and it’s been a difficult journey.

The honest answer is that I just haven’t felt like writing. I still can’t seem to focus or get motivated.

I had the chance to travel up to Long Island New York last week for their Fire, Rescue and EMS Mega Show.

I got to spend the weekend with my MN8 FoxFire family. I call them “family” because they are … it was an easy decision to go.

I thought it would be “A Needed Distraction”.

In some ways, it was. I was hoping it would open some doors for me and it did …. it also slammed a few in my face.

Most of you know that Rhett (The Fire Critic) and I very seldom travel without the other but he was unable to make this trip.

Not wanting to drive alone, I figured I’d ask my sister, Marci; to tag along.

If nothing else, we’d get to spend the weekend together and that’s never a bad thing (or it shouldn’t be anyway). She was excited! We both were.

What I didn’t figure on was how emotionally difficult it would be for me (and maybe her too).

She reminds me so much of Jackson. I’ve never looked at or thought of her that way.

She looks like him. She acts like him. Her mannerisms. How she uses her hands when she talks, how she crosses her legs. How she talks. Little things but everywhere I looked, every time I turned around, she reminded me of Jackson and it breaks my heart. My stomach stayed in knots … that “sick” feeling all over again … the hurt.

I may have the same affect on her. Everyone always said that we all looked exactly alike (dad, me, Jack and Marci). I’m sure Dad sees Jack in us and I know it hurts. So here’s another door I’ll (we’ll) have to figure out how to “open up”. I’ve got to learn to be around things (including people / family) that remind me of Jack. I need to figure out how to make these “reminders” trigger the good memories and not rekindle my pain and sorrow.

I’m not sure how to do it. How to open this door.

I don’t think it’s one that can be “forced”. I think I’ve been doing too much of that lately … “forcing” the issues.

Today is two months since Jack took his life. Everyone is still asking “how” I am … how I’m “doing”.

My reply has become standard … what everyone wants to hear. I’m “ok”. I’m “hanging in”. Making it “day by day” or “one step at a time”.

I’m not so sure that’s 100% true. Click that photo to the left. Do you ever hide your true emotions with replies like that? Are you telling those around you what they “want to hear” or how you’re truly feeling?

I have to admit again that “opening up” here on the blog (as difficult as it has been to do) has been therapeutic. I think it’s been my best therapy so far. I wasn’t so sure in the beginning.

“Opening up” for all my readers to see was a huge decision for me. I wasn’t sure I even could (or should for that matter). I’m glad I have.

While in Long Island (and many times before, via e-mails etc) several Brothers and Sisters approached me with not only sympathy and condolences, but with THANKS as well. They actually thanked me for sharing my story. I don’t think I was expecting that.

Some say it’s uplifting, a source of inspiration and that it’s even helped them through their own struggles with grief.  Others say they miss the “old Willie” and that they are patiently awaiting the return of my “regular” postings while they understand and support my latest directions.

I met several GREAT Brothers and Sisters while in Long Island but one in particular will always stand out in my mind.

A true BROTHER and Captain Daniel Purcell of the Scarsdale Fire Department paid me a VERY special visit. He said he has been following my site (and Rhett’s) for a while now. When he seen I would be in Long Island, he had to come meet me.

We had a GREAT conversation. I wont share the details but it was very humbling. He brought gifts and even asked about the Buckaroo. I don’t think he was even interested in the show …. just delivering his message to me. THANKS AGAIN CAPT ! I hope you know how much that visit meant to me.

If it helps you to know, I’m not the only one talking about stress and “Behavioral Health” these days. “At an international conference on Friday, March 1, the NFFF introduced a new Behavioral Health Model that changes the way the fire service assists firefighters and others on the path to healing. It is based on the concept that no two firefighters will necessarily have the same reaction — not even to the same call”.

Learn more about what they’re doing / saying in the links below ….

“Helping Firefighters Deal with Psychological Stress from Job’s Routine and Extraordinary Events”

 Life Safety Initiatives 

And once again I’ll add my standard links / resources for grief, stress and PTSD …,   Recover from The Sweeney Alliance,Firefighter Behavioral Health AllianceNorth American Firefighter Veteran Network

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines