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Sometimes It’s the Characters That Need to Be Watched

October 25, 2017

Captain Michael Morse, retired, Providence Fire Department

Sometimes it’s the characters that need to be watched


Fire departments are full of characters; it takes different personality traits to put an effective fire force together. Engine company firefighters like to go in, be confined, feel the heat and get dirty. Your ladder company consists of firefighters who like to break things, climb ladders, break things and then break more things. And get dirty. Oh, they like going into burning buildings too, but usually with axes and poles rather than those cumbersome lines full of charged water. An EMS division is full of people people; the ones who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. They possess the gift of gab, and use those skills to find out what is wrong with their patients, and how best to help them.

We know and appreciate our differences, and understand that it takes a team consisting of unique qualities to be the best at what we do. Some of us are quiet, others loud and obnoxious. What a lot of us don’t understand is that addictive tendencies exist in people from all walks of life, and all kinds of personalities. Sometimes, those addictive tendencies turn into full blown drug addiction or alcoholism.
It’s not always the quiet ones you have to watch out for, far too often the people who appear to need help the least need it the most. Boisterous behavior is often used to cover up feelings of inadequacy which can lead to habits formed to combat those feelings. People with strong personalities are masters of illusion; the people they surround themselves with are unwilling to crack the shell of a seemingly in control person.

Firefighters pride themselves on the closeness of the group, but truth be told, when it comes to confronting somebody we think might be having problems with drugs and or alcohol, we are no better than anybody else.

It is uncomfortable, and easy to ignore, often until it is too late.

Struggling with an addiction is a lonely business for most. The very nature of whichever beast that causes the problem is to isolate, control and destroy. The person under attack, and that is exactly what I believe an addiction is, a relentless attack on a person’s pride, confidence and independence will withdraw, but not necessarily in the traditional ways.A happy-go-lucky person joking through life, rolling with the punches and living hard and fast may very well be just what it appears, but if you suspect that person is not what they appear to be trust your instinct and try and peel back some layers. We pride ourselves on our ability to save lives under horrific circumstances, to keep our cool when things get hot. We fail miserably when it comes to saving our own. We sense when things are not right with one of our own but choose to ignore all but the most obvious signs of a problem with drugs and alcohol.

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Our society glorifies the drug culture. It’s socially acceptable to be part of the party, and even better to be the life of the party. Most people are able to participate in the party safely. Many cannot, and many more choose to withdraw completely from the party so that they can drink and use other substances the way they want to without exposure to the group.

When I struggled with my own demons nobody knew. They may have suspected, but even those closest to me were unaware of the depth of my problem. My secret was suffocating, and keeping it was killing me just as effectively as the substances that I introduced into my system in obscene amounts were. Had somebody confronted me, I would have acted annoyed, and deflected any questions masterfully. But those questions would have stayed with me, and nagged me, and opened me to thinking that maybe my secret wasn’t so secret after all.

If you suspect that a friend, coworker or family member is in trouble, don’t hesitate to open some constructive dialogue with them.

Getting them to think that another human being actually is concerned opens them to possibility of confronting their problem, and maybe, just maybe getting rid of it.


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