Yesterday, I began writing a post about firefighter “mayday” calls. Sadly there is a tendency to delay making a “Mayday” call, assuming that a call for assistance is a sign of weakness or failure. The truth is…sometimes delaying the call for aide is the difference between living and dying. I suspect I will have more commentary about “Mayday” signaling in the future, but as usual, current events steer my thinking toward another concern.
I was fortunate enough to be in another state on Friday, while my comrades were dealing with a horrific crash on the main thoroughfare through our first due. The Tractor Trailer vs. car vs. SUV with fire and entrapment had the expected fatal results, and the lives of the responders will forever be altered. It was a long, agonizing event that involved 8 hours of activities, including; response, extinguishment, patient care, investigation and clean up.
These are the calls that worry me. Not the strategy and tactics…we all train to deal with the emergencies we respond to. I worry for the responders who now need to deal with the emotions that will be altering their character for the next hours, days, weeks, or perhaps longer. Sadly, the machismo developed by people in the emergency services prevents us from understanding the impact of these stressful responses. Helplessness can erode the soul, witnessed death can haunt the mind, and the sights, sounds and smells of scenes like these can rot your gut. Sometimes these effects are immediate and sometimes they manifest over time.
We don’t ever think about calling “Mayday” for our feelings, but truthfully, it is the perfect word. It comes from the French phrase “m’aidez”, which means “help me”. As brothers, we need to be aware of the signs of someone needing our help, and reach out to offer that help. If we are not comfortable with the role of “shoulder to cry on”, we have the duty to report our concerns to a company officer, or trusted friend. This problem may not be an immediate case of “life or death”, but it certainly has an affect on the quality of life.
I have personally been involved in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing 4 times. In all four cases, I swore I did not feel any ill effects from the incident I was exposed to, and refused additional intervention. Much to my surprise, I found myself telling these stories to a therapist 15 years later, after several personal life-altering events occurred in my life. I have to wonder what damage was really done by all that grief that I chose to bury deep inside me.
So, brothers and sisters, when you find yourself exposed to the horrors of your job…speak up. Seek a sympathetic ear from a trusted colleague, or if you prefer, consider professional help. Keep an eye and ear open for signs and symptoms of stress in yourself and your peers. Changes in personality, attentiveness, sleep patterns, mood, and spirit are just a few of the signs that may be present. Consider these symptoms as a Mayday call, and respond accordingly. It may not be quite as flashy as a grab by a RIT team, but is every bit heroic!