I had always been told that losing a kid would be the hardest kind of run you would have, “kid calls are the worst” and I have had some codes with children and I believed they were the worst calls, until May 30, 2015. I was working a Saturday night shift as a FF/Paramedic at the part time department I have been with sine I had got my Paramedic card.
We headed to my partner’s favorite place to get dinner and three bites into our food the tones dropped.We asked them to box up our food and we’d be back to get it and pay after the call. (Thankfully the local place is familiar with us and will accommodate us from time to time. We finished our call, a CO alarm drop which was nothing more than a 12 year old CO detector that was well past due to be replaced. We returned to the restaurant to get our food, which they said they would just make us new food.
We got one bite in and the tones dropped again… Structure fire, residential, unknown in all occupants are out. My department operates with 1 duty crew and the rest are volunteer, so as the duty crew we are usually first en route and on scene, and that night we were on scene before any other fire/ems units. A Deputy Sheriff had arrived on scene before us and it appeared all occupants had made it out of the house. We did our scene size up and had heavy fire ripping out the Delta side of the house.
Our fire units arrived on scene and as the Squad (Ambulance) crew we helped get the dump tank set up, lines flaked out and whatever else needed done those early moments of the fire scene. Our mutual aid units were arriving on scene, my squad partner was ow operating as engineer for the main engine providing water supply and I was just starting to retrieve some items to set up rehab, when I saw a growing group of firefighters near the fire side of the house, then I heard someone yell, Get the Squad, Get the Squad! We had 3 squads on scene by then, mine plus 2 mutual aid departments.
I turned to see a firefighter down on the ground and others pulling at his turn out gear trying to get his pack and gear off. I ran to the squad that was being moved in closer and grabbed their “first in” bag, I head someone say he was diabetic and they wanted a blood sugar check, someone else was working on that and I was now kneeling at the left shoulder of one of the firefighter/paramedics from a mutual aid department and helped get his arm out of his gear, he didn’t look right, his breathing wasn’t right and he had a thin purple line in his lips.
I realized he needed help breathing, his respirations were almost agonal so we got the BVM out and put together and another EMT began to bag him, I asked for a monitor and we used a knife to get his shirt off since scissors weren’t available that very second. My gut was screaming something is wrong and this is bad, we got the pads on him and the person working the monitor couldn’t get it to read. My Captain is kneeling across from me at his right shoulder and we lock eyes, we both know he is going and going fast on us.
A paramedic from another department started to debate what needed done, I said we need him on the monitor, they said just get him in the squad. His Chief leaned over the sea of helping hands around us and said, I am his Chief and I say we load him in the squad and go. I’m not a violent or disrespectful person by nature but in that moment I wanted to not only tell him where he could shove those 5 bugles on his collar, but hand deliver them there myself. I checked for a pulse and I couldn’t feel one, so I started chest compressions on him. In all my years of service I had not done compressions on one of “us”.
I had taken care of police men that had been shot, EMTs that had been ill, I’ve started compressions on dozens of people, but never on one of “us”. We got him into the back of the squad and with 3 Medics and an EMT we coded him all the way to the hospital, we shocked him twice and they shocked him some more and worked him at the hospital, and they got him back, he had ROSC, and was flown to the trauma center downtown. He never regained consciousness. His son, also a FF/EMT was on his honeymoon out of town when he got the call about his Dad.
“Our” guy spent several days in ICU, his family made it in to see him and spend time with him before his last wishes were fulfilled and he was removed from life support. He died on June 5, 2015. I finished my 12 hour shift the night of the fire in a daze. I was given the option to go home, but having had similar experiences in the past, I knew sleep wasn’t an option so I opted to finish my shift. I was working full time for a private ambulance company and on that following Monday did a transfer to the very hospital he was at, yet I couldn’t bring myself to go see him, I was afraid I’d start crying and not be able to stop.
At that point I was feeling like I was just done with EMS all together. What do you do when everything in your life has revolved around your career and suddenly you don’t feel like you can do it anymore? Me, I kept working. I served on the honor guard at his funeral and stood two tours beside his casket during the visitation, then at the funeral I cried silently during the service, then my whole body shoot as I tried to hold in all the tears at the cemetery as they did the last call, the bell, and the bag pipes played.
I was still in a daze. They finally had a critical incident debriefing for us, in the days after the funeral, too flipping late for me, but it was at his department”s request and then barely any of them even came to it. The daze faded and I was back to “Normal” or so I thought. I had quit my job at the private ambulance company and taken a job as a corrections department paramedic at a local jail. I was depressed, Christmas time always got me down but this year there was no rebound after the new year.
My job at the jail seemed like the change I needed, at first. Twice in three months I had a Deputy and a Corrections Officer become very ill at the jail and had to call squads for both of them. While I maintained during the incidents, as soon as they were gone I was a wreck on the inside. I physically had to leave the building for a while to pull myself together. I just stared the job and didn’t want them to think I was crazy for bursting out into tears over what were “minor” things.
Then, on Dec. 28, 2015, a firefighter was killed in a house fire in the area I had grown up in, a mayday had been declared, he was recovered from the fire and transported to a local hospital where he died. As I watched the news story online as I sat in my office in the jail, I was suddenly and unexpectedly right back on the fire I lost one of “my guys”. And I sat there and wept.I then began to cry a lot more often. A lot of nights when I finally got home, or on the drive home, sometimes in my office as I’m usually in there alone. I began to have insomnia and if I did sleep, I had nightmares.
When people ask me if I like being a Paramedic I tell them I love it 95% of the time, the other 5% gives me nightmares and I was stuck in that 5%. I was increasingly depressed, I’m an emotional eater so i was starting to put on weight, I was withdrawing from friends, family, mu church and even trying to back away from God. I was seeing shadows move and having increasing thoughts of suicide or just draining my bank accounts, taking the money and leaving my jobs, home, pets, friends and family behind and just start life over somewhere else.
I knew something had to happen or something bad was going to happen, it was no longer an IF but a WHEN. I told virtually no one of my struggles and if they asked I lied to them about how I was doing. So I sent a message to the CISM team that did our debriefing, telling them I needed help, I was looking for a counselor that deals with first responders. I found one and began therapy doing something they call Cognitive Processing Therapy. It was supposed to be a 12 week program type thing.
I live in a very rural area and this counselor is almost an hour and a half away. It’s helped some, I haven’t finished the program, it is hard to arrange my work schedule with their office schedule. I don’t know if I’ll finish. I know I need to because as the anniversary date of that day approaches the deeper the darkness is beginning to feel again. I took a leave of absence from my department. I still work my full time job in the jail, but I need to, I have bills to pay.
I am presently avoiding a lot of the things that remind me of the incident, but you can’t avoid time, you can’t avoid the calendar. The anxiety builds until my chest hurts, the insomnia has came back, and I am still not sure if this a career I can continue to do. But, I know I’m not alone out there. I know I am not crazy, weak or defective. I am human, and losing someone you know…sucks. He died, I didn’t, for a reason. Darkness can come, I lost a friend with PTSD to suicide last year. I don”t want to be a statistic on that record book.
– Story written by an anonymous 41 year old firefighter/paramedic, 11 years in EMS.