Being a firefighter comes with a ton of tremendous rewards. The brotherhood we share is unparalleled in any other profession. We sacrifice our time, family, personal relationships and family to be part of the fire service. I know for myself, not being an active Captain anymore, I’m still completely involved in the fire service in a different capacity. Helping firefighters who are having issues in their personal lives has been a 24/7 job for me. Instead on answering the pager for a fire at 3 am, I’m answering the phone from a distressed firefighter or EMT. That’s why I’m excited to tell you a little about the Share The Load program and how it will help firefighters and EMS throughout the country.
Share The Load is a joint effort between the National Volunteer Fire Council and American Addiction Centers to offer a free 24 hotline for firefighters and EMS nationwide. Being part of this effort has been humbling to say the least. This effort is filling a much-needed gap in the fire service and trying to save the lives of the people who work everyday to save others. The Fire/EMS helpline is designed to give First Responders a confidential number to call to guide them to the appropriate resources for their problem. When first responders call the line, they will be able to talk to another first responder who understands the nature of their work and can best guide them to the resources that work. So what can the Fire/EMS helpline help with?
Family Issues — This should be no surprise that this is at the top of the list. The strain on the first responder family, due to the nature of the work we do, can cause tremendous problems in our home. The long shifts as a paid firefighter, the constant time we spend away from the family as a volunteer, and the worry of the significant other about whether we’re going to come home that day put pressure on the home life. When you call the helpline we can help guide you to the right resources that will be able to help you manage the work/life balance.
PTSD — This is a growing concern in our profession and one that has been coming to light over the last few years. The rates of firefighters who are struggling with PTSD range anywhere between 7-37%. If PTSD is left untreated it can snowball into substance abuse and even suicide. Calling the helpline will get you to another first responder right away, to start the process of speaking on a confidential level. That phone call is a direct line to the right guidance and resources for PTSD or any other tough, isolating challenge you’re up against.
Mental Health — You can call the Hotline if you are experiencing any issues related to mental health. Anxiety, bi-polar, and depression are just a few of the disorders we can help you with. Calling the helpline and getting to the right resources is not just a matter of improving your quality of life, it can restart, strengthen and lengthen your career as a firefighter or EMT. We understand it can be hard bringing these problems up to your friends at the station so the helpline gives you a confidential resource to reach out to for the help you need.
Substance Abuse — I believe alcoholism and substance abuse are the biggest problems we face. With over half of PTSD sufferers struggling with substance abuse and the constant partying that goes on in the volunteer side of firefighting and EMS, addressing this problem is long overdue. Every convention or parade you go to is a walking alcohol advertisement. The beer trucks are line up and the drinking is commencing. Calling the helpline will help guide you to the program that can help with your substance abuse issues. You’ll be guided to accredited programs like those at American Addiction Centers, where a treatment protocol has been established to help treat the firefighter with the unique needs of his or her profession. Many times firefighters and EMS personal self medicate with alcohol to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, depression PTSD and other mental health issues. Calling the helpline, you can speak with another first responder and get to the help you need.
Stress — Stress in the first responder community??? You don’t say. There is good stress and there is bad stress. Stress is somewhat the nature of the job, and it’s more than the average person is used to. So it is not a weakness to seek some guidance in learning how to deal with and manage it effectively. Small improvements in stress management can help improve many aspects of your life. If stress is overcoming your life, calling the helpline will bring you to the right type of treatment.
The Share the Load program is something that should have happened a long time ago. With the nature of our work it’s no surprise to me that many of the issues above exist. This helpline is available to all first responders and their family members free of charge. Calling will be the first steps in getting to the resources that will help you or your family member live a healthy and happy life.
If you see one of your fellow brothers or sisters struggling with any of these issues, please pass along the number. Better yet, if you would like a poster for your station, please email this author and have one mailed to you. If we all take a little personal responsibly in sharing this information, we can help many of our brothers and sisters who may be suffering in silence. Below you will find some useful links that can explain the program and how the helpline can help strengthen your department.
Fire/EMS Helpline – 1.888.731.FIRE (3473)
American Addiction Centers http://dev.americanaddictioncenters.org/fire-services/