Unfortunately this clip from “Rescue Me” hits home. The death of Jack Slivinski is still being felt throughout our department. The untimely suicide of the popular young firefighter has many people asking a lot of hard questions. One of the big questions is how many emergency workers suffer silently from this disorder? My personal feeling is a lot. Too many.
But as this clip illustrates most suffer in silence. It’s our culture that we just don’t talk about those things and there are some pretty good reasons why. Performance is one. For the most part we can’t dwell on what we see every day. For many (like myself) we just try not to absorb what we see beyond doing our jobs. I try to treat the job like an assembly line. Treat the patient or resolve the incident as quickly and efficiently as I can because there is another one right behind it. The more I dwell on it the more I will remember and that isn’t happening. That may sound callous but the alternative is to get wrapped up in the often bitter tragedy of a parent who overdoses on Heroine in front of their kids for example. You get the picture.
But although emergency services have dealt with these issues forever, all too often drugs and especially alcohol have been the therapy of choice. Substance abuse has wreaked havoc on the lives of many cops, firefighters and paramedics. Now we are smarter (sort of). As usual it takes a tragedy to spark change. Hopefully out of the utter tragedy of Jacks death will come a renewed awareness of PTSD and suicide and the toll they can take on first responders and emergency workers.
I have brought the subject to the attention of our union and as I expected, so far nothing has come of it. Hopefully that will change. I will continue the push for baseline and follow-up PTSD testing over the course of our careers so that we can track our people and hopefully get them the help they need BEFORE we have any more Jack Slivinski’s. In the end Jacks tragic death may save many lives.