Tonight I had dinner with an old friend and former co-worker. I worked a lot with this guy when I was new in the business. He was very influential in my decision to move from private EMS to a fire/EMS service. I have always considered him a good friend and a real “fireman’s fireman”……Fourth generation in fact.
He also worked with, and knew very well, the two friends who took their own lives recently. I asked him to meet with me so we could talk about the cultural problem facing not just our department, but all fire and EMS agencies. He is in a position now that he can play a large role in making changes – I wanted to share my story with him and make sure he and the rest of the command staff see the issue at hand.
I was very nervous to share my story, even though he is a good friend. He is still part of the culture that turns the other cheek and hides emotions, after all. I wasn’t sure he would “hear” me and I just didn’t know how he would react to me and my emotions.
Two great things came out of our long conversation. First, and most importantly, he told me about the department’s plans to change the culture. They acknowledge that there is a problem and understand that it is not just about education. They understand that this type of cultural change will not, cannot, happen overnight but that it will take time and dedication to the cause. I left truly feeling they are on the right track and fully “get it”.
Second, he did hear me. He listened. He was sympathetic and understanding. He did not judge me or look at me differently. Our friendship did not change. His respect for me as a person and as a fire/medic remains the same. This all means a lot to me – I have always been worried about what “the guys” would think if they knew about my struggles. Turns out – it doesn’t change anything.
So, if you are like me – struggling in silence for fear of other people’s reactions – please believe me when I say, the reaction will be positive. I have told a lot of people in the last week or so and have experienced nothing but support and understanding. You do not have to tell the world, but it may help to talk to someone. And they will listen….