by Timothy O. Casey
Firefighter/Paramedic (retired)

Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

As a firefighter/paramedic for more than 30 years, I can safely say I have pretty much seen it all. I have seen death in every incarnation and life as well. We on the front lines are not invited politely to join in the fray of life; no, we are thrust into chaos on a daily basis, it’s our job.

It is to say the least an unusual profession, no two days are alike and no two emergencies are alike. The environment is rarely predictable and the events and people even more unpredictable. Yet we go.

Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

I know many days I felt like a human garbage collector, picking up the waste of society. People although fascinated with the gruesome, macabre, or terrifying only see it from a distance. We hold it in our hands and get it on the soles of our boots.

For me personally, I decided to treat my condition, my discomfort with alcohol. The ease and comfort that came from a bottle was a welcome house guest. I could turn off the noise, shut out the visions and thoughts with at first a few beers and in the end gallons.

I was haunted by the calls where I was powerless, where all my training and knowledge were useless, where the patient still died in spite of my best effort. Those people visited me on my days off. They came to in my sleep. Only the situation changed.

I would relieve a terrible T/A in my mind, only the replay was altered. Instead of the real victims of the accident I would find my family trapped in the wreckage of mangled steel and chrome. And I would still be powerless to help; now the screams I heard in my restless mind emanated from the throat of a loved one. No sleep would come, no peace could be found.

So I became accustomed to passing out instead of falling asleep. I became use to coming to, instead of waking up. For years that got me through it, and then it stopped working. Now what?

I could seek treatment; lord knows it was offered on a regular basis. Every time we had some particularly horrendous event the good old Stress Debriefing Team came around to offer us help. My problem was this. I saw that most of my co-workers appeared unaffected, they were dealing with it, even joking about it. Was I some kind of weakling, why was I so disturbed on the inside when those around me remained intact? If I sought help and the others learned of it, would I be considered less than?

I was a badass firefighter, a seasoned veteran, even looked up to. How could I be seen as weak? Simply put I couldn’t. So I pushed on, I drank more, worked more and everything around me began to crack and fall apart.

My inability to seek help had real consequences. My family life was in tatters, my finances were in ruin, my health declined and my madness grew.

Finally, on a warm July night, drunk again I crawled into the cab of my pickup truck, closed the garage door, found an appropriately sad song and passed out with the truck running.

Only by chance did my wife discover my suicide attempt, without her intervention my effort would have been a success.

Now I was in the hands of all my co-workers, she had called 911 and guess who showed up. My peers, from the fire engine, to the ambulance, to the cops, then on to the ED where my physician advisor was attending me. The only thing that could have been more embarrassing would have been to have my parents in the emergency room for a tour.

Just like work I was thrust into the system, I was placed on a 72 hour hold and confined in a mental facility. I was placed on a work contract and forced in to counseling.

Sometimes you don’t know the best days of your life while they are happening. It is only through hindsight that you make that discovery. I finally got the help I so desperately needed and had my feet firmly placed back on the ground.

Is this the method I would recommend as a path to treatment? Obviously no. If you hear anything here, know this, you are not alone in feeling the way you might be feeling. My story might sound specific to my career as a firefighter, but it isn’t.

We all have experiences that can be overwhelming, insurmountable, and feel hopeless. So what the hell, give the people who can help you a chance, all you have to lose is everything.

About the Author: Tim Casey is a retired firefighter/paramedic with more than 30 years on the streets. He now teaches  at the University of Colorado and is a published author. Tim’s new book, Dangers, Toils and Snares: Confessions of a Firefighter, has been a bestseller on Amazon. In addition, he writes for a magazine and his blog, I Never Wanted to be a Firefighter, is somewhat popular as well. Tim is an alcoholic and has been in AA for many years. Tim will soon be publishing his new book, Saving Firefighters.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Laura

    Raised a daughter of a vollie Fd in Blue Point NY I feel the words written here, as “personal”. only to find myself a vollie during recovery of the WTC site after 911. I volunteered 9 months with the Salvation army , NY Cares & American Red Cross. I got involved in many types of projects & would not trade the experience for the world. I PRAY DAILY for every single first responder in the world and hope that if nothing else gets across to them is they are NEVER FORGOTTEN and NEVER ALONE

    1. peggy sweeney

      Laura, thank for your kind words. I know our first responder readers appreciate your thoughtfulness.
      Peggy Sweeney
      Station House Retreat

  2. Christine Bennett

    It has been over a year since I found Don Prince on the internet. I was in desperation to seek help for my boyfriend. Jack is a combat veteran with PTSD. Jack is also an EX EMS captain from a New York Fire Department. Jack responded on 911. Jack is an alcoholic, failing in health. After all the years of saving lives, Jack is finally saving his own. Don never gave up on my plee for help, always checking in, calling Jack to coach him into accepting the help that he was offering. Today I am proud to say that Jack is finally on the road to recovery, he left on the plane this afternoon to Station House. Don, thank you so much for always being there and never giving up on Jack. I know Jack is in good hands and I also know he will now complete his goal of helping others overcome the pains of being a warrior and a hero! God Bless you Don Prince. Everything happens for a reason <3

    1. peggy sweeney

      Thank you, Christine, for your post. Today is the first day of the rest of Jack’s life.
      Peggy Sweeney, Founder
      Station House Retreat

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