Making the push… a Firefighter’s strugle with mental illness



“Making the push” … it’s a term commonly used / heard throughout the Fire Service and all across the Country. Depending on where you’re at (or from) the terminology may  slightly differ but if you’re on the job, you know what this term means.

For those of you not on the job I’ll offer this brief explanation. “Making the push” is what Firefighters do once they get to (or near) the fire floor / room. It’s what happens after we get to the point of no return… to the point of attack (or a difficult search).

There are a LOT of variables. Depending on the situation, making the fire floor can be easy .. little to no smoke, heat etc. However, after we get there (to the fire floor), then we have to find the seat of the fire … it’s “core” … the place where we need to put the water in order to extinguish it.

This is where it gets “real”. Finding the apartment or room of origin. Getting inside and into position to attack. A lot of younger and/or less experienced Firefighters will open the nozzle too early. As soon as they loose visibility or when they get into a little heat.



You don’t put water on smoke (I know.. that’s a different scenario). It slows / hampers you from getting to where you REALLY need to be. It takes experience, education, leadership and discipline to get to where you need to be.

I always teach fighting from the jamb (the door jamb of the room). The Officer makes the decision whether or not to hit the fire or hold the room for a search. The fire is growing … getting bigger and hotter… consuming more of the room and the air that sustains life (ours and theirs).

As soon as that nozzle is opened, the thermal balance is up set… it changes and you can’t take that decision back. The temperature rises (for a moment and depending on ventilation) , the water converts to steam, the smoke and heat expand, consume the room and bank to the floor (previously the coolest place in that room). You’re in a MUCH different place than just moments before.

If there was life in this room, there may not be any more. Beyond that priority, this is also the spot where if the fire was going to spread, move into the walls or to another floor, it would happen.

The nozzleman will wait and cover. Using every sense at his disposal. He’ll listen to changes, feel the change in heat,… on his ears, across his shoulders and down to his bended knee. He’ll wait for the plaster to crack / fall, for the steam and smoke to bounce back up, off the floor. All of this  in anticipation of the moment to react. There’s more work to do. All he’s done to this point is “knock it down”. Now, he’ll have to make another push and move in for full extinguishment.

Again, this is where younger / less experienced Firefighters loose site. The adrenaline is PUMPING. They can’t believe what they just accomplished. That they made it this far…. pushed through all that hell and put the fire out! Well guess what????? It’s  not out and the job isn’t done… we still need to accomplish the things Ive mentioned above (and more). It’s not over!

I tell you this story because it’s the only one I know. It’s how I relate. I want to talk to you about my continued struggle with Grief, Depression and PTSD (Mental Illness) and it’s the only way I know to try to explain what’s happening to me… what I’m going through.

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Drawing by Jodi Monroe

Drawing by Jodi Monroe

Those of you who have followed me for any time know of the struggles and demons I’ve encountered since December 30, 2012. I’m still fighting.

I say that a little embarrassed and ashamed because I thought that almost 2 years later, I’d have been able to “move on” and put most (if not at least some) of this behind me.

I didn’t know it would take this long. I’m not sure how much longer it will take. I’m not even sure if there is an end.

I do know that the “end” many of us find and choose is not the answer for me. It’s not a solution.

For those new to the site, at first; I built a facade. I was the tough, American Firefighter … a farmer and cowboy…. I could get through this. The death (suicide) of my brother.

When people asked, I was doing fine…. was gonna be OK. Inside, I was dying! I couldn’t breath. I threw up everything I ate. I wasn’t sleeping and was haunted by a reoccurring nightmare. I was what most would consider a heavy drinker before it all and afterward, I turned to the bottle even more. I was a bad father, a terrible husband and no where near the man I had hoped to be.

Click the following for related posts / links ….

Read “Zero Visibility” Click HERE

Read  “When Firefighters Need Rescue!” Click HERE

Read “I thought it’s Supposed to Get Easier” Click HERE

Read “In a Department Somewhere, In Some Company, Someone is Struggling” Click HERE

Read “Facing Suicide Head On Without Committing It” Click HERE

Read “Searching” Click HERE

I depression_drinkingcouldn’t talk about it …. not to “regular people” anyway. They wouldn’t understand what I was thinking…. the things I saw and replayed in my mind. They wouldn’t know the smells or tastes I woke up with at night… the cold sweats or screams.

It took a while but my best friend, Rhett (aka The Fire Critic) finally figured it out and stepped in. He made it JUST IN TIME. There was no “book” … no “how to” … no SOP’s or SOG’s on how to handle what I was going through. It entire subject was TABOO.

I went through several processes that included checking into a “facility” and counseling. Some helped, some didn’t. I thought I had made progress following a trip dad and I took on my birthday. It didn’t last long.

valley_of_the_shadow_of_death_by_reyed33-d2zdga0Because of what happened, I stopped what I had been doing. I thought it was all going to be better now. It hasn’t been. I’ve slowly but surely slipped back down hill. You’ve most likely noticed it in my lack of writing / posting. If you’ve been around me, you know for sure.

I’m lost… still wondering … SEARCHING. Walking through the Valley of the shadow of DEATH.

I still can’t think straight. It’s difficult to explain but it’s almost like I can’t sort my thoughts. It becomes overwhelming. Unable to function, once again I find myself pouring a drink and trying to figure it all out. It’s a never ending cycle that makes no progress. I don’t want to be around anyone yet I don’t want to (and know I can’t) be alone.

My level of procrastination has grown. I’m avoiding (neglecting) tasks / conversations that I know need to happen. The world, my feelings and emotions are closing in around me. It’s suffocating and results in anger, rage, embarrassment, self pity etc when challenged. Where have I gone? Who / what have I become?

Somehow or another, I’ve concluded that there are a few things I need to do in an attempt to move forward. Some things, that in my mind; have been left incomplete for whatever reason. Other things I haven’t so easily admitted to.

The Wines familyI still have Jackson’s clothes. Tired of finding me in my closet every night, my wife has moved them to the garage. I could smell him there. I didn’t (don’t) want to loose that. I say that but know that the clothes have to go. They need to be donated to someone (place) who can / will use them. Jackson was always the first to step up and help someone and even in death, his clothes can do the same.

I haven’t placed a marker (head / tombstone) on his grave. Mom and Dad both agreed that this was something that I would do. I’ve ordered it. It includes his birth name “John Charles Wines” as well as “Jack” and “Jackson” (as he was known to friends and family). It will have a deer head and a fish in each top corner of the stone. Jackson was an avid outdoorsman  and I believe found his most peace there.

I’ve lied about and hesitated getting the stone because (although I know he is) it’s like saying he’s gone to me.  It’s a HUGE step for me and with my mind / thoughts the way they are, the drinking, the traveling (simply to get away from all reminders) etc… etc …etc I’m just not sure.

PTSD message conceptual designThat’s also unsettling … being unsure. I’m a Captain in the Fire Department. It’s MY JOB to make decisions … to KNOW about things… to be able to fix them! I’m used to it. I used to be good at it. I’m not so much any more. As a matter of fact….I’m a poor example here of late.

I fail at even the simplest of expectations. It’s not a place / position I’m used to being in. It’s not where I want to be yet I can’t seem to pull myself out. I’m searching for answers / solutions yet always second guessing and doubting myself (maybe even avoiding what I know to be right).

I’ve talked about in previous posts how we (the Fire Service) don’t talk about Mental Illness / Professional Health and Wellness enough. I’ve told you about Grief, Depression, PTSD and more. I’ve tried to explain how the “suck it up” and “do you job” mentality is biased, discriminatory and unjust. How it’s NOT as easy as just putting yourself in a “better place” or in a better “state of mind” or putting your boot back on.

It’s easy to sit back and talk about or make fun of the Brother (or Sister) who is struggling. It’s a chance or opportunity to get ahead of them … to make yourself look good and them bad. It’s easy because you don’t understand … you CAN’T … not until you’ve been there.

Captain Willie Wines Jr 2Mental Illness is just that … A DISEASE …. an ILLNESS. The affects it has on Public Safety and the Military has yet to be fully discovered. We are NOT your “typical” citizen. We have been exposed to, seen and done things that others can only imagine (and still they’d have no clue). My point here is this …. I’ve had some set backs. I’m still struggling yet fighting to the best of my abilities and with everything I know how to (which isn’t much).   This is the reason for my absence over the past few months and I hope you understand.

I want to get back… I NEED TO GET BACK .. to “where”, I’m not sure. I’m working on it. Read “Searching for a New Normal” click HERE.

DON’T GIVE UP ON ME. I’ll get there and then show you how I did it. I have a good friend, Zach Green; who recently gave me a gift. It contained this quote from Ralph Waldo Emmerson … I’ll leave you with that quote as I think it’s appropriate ..

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go Instead where there is no path and leave a trail”!

Maybe that’s what I’m doing? Where I’m heading … where there is “no path”. Maybe … just MAYBE, that’s why I’m still here? ….

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines

Helpful / Related links:

“Suicides Are Preventable” Everyone Goes Home… Click HERE

Grieving Behind the Badge …. Click HERE

Safe Call Now … Click HERE

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance … Click HERE