I was about to get into the shower this morning when my cell phone rang. It’s never a good thing for your phone to ring that early. Undoubtedly it has to be work related. Nervously I went downstairs and retrieved the phone blaring Metallicas “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. The irony is never lost on me. I looked at the phone and when I saw who the caller was knew instantly that it was a grapevine call.
The call was from another firefighter friend of mine. He was calling to let me know that another Philadelphia firefighter, friend and fire school classmate of mine Dave P. had killed himself at his home earlier this morning. Once again a wave of nausea washed over me as I thought of Dave and the tragedy this brings to his family. This is yet another blow for a department still reeling from the untimely death of popular young firefighter Jack Slivinski.
Dave was a real nice guy. I often ran into him at the union hall during our monthly meetings. We would share a beer and discuss the latest issues that our fire department faced in its never-ending contract battles with the city and our never-ending quest to do our jobs protecting the city and its citizens. Dave was intelligent and knowledgable of the important issues and always had some good insight into them. I always enjoyed our discussions. I would also see Dave on the street as he worked overtime in the medic units often. He was always hustling to earn a few extra dollars to take care of his family. Although I didn’t work in the same station with Dave, he was good friends with a few guys in my station, one in particular. I know Daves death will be difficult for him. Our class is coming up on our twentieth anniversary on the job this Feb. To say his death is a shock is an understatement.
Once again I have no explanation for why someone takes their own life. Especially after talking with some of the fellas. There were no apparent warning signs. That’s pretty scary. When someone seems totally normal for all intents and purposes (at least on the outside) yet is so torn up on the inside, to the point where they take their own life, it’s time to admit we have a serious problem. Undoubtedly twenty years on the streets of Philly had taken its toll.
I will continue to raise awareness within the job about the effects of PTSD and suicide prevention and awareness. I believe we need to start baseline testing and screening for all new firefighters as well as periodic follow-up care and tracking throughout the course of our career. It needs to be mandatory so as to diminish any stigmatization that may be associated with the issues surrounding PTSD. We also need better training for our supervisors in realizing when to use the CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing) process. Far too many incidents of traumatic or brutal nature go by with minimum or no immediate follow-up stress management provided to the members. Far too many carry far too much weight. Sooner or later we all reach a breaking point.
I’m tired of seeing my friends and co-workers being killed by this job whether it’s on the fireground or in their own homes. The result is the same.
Rest in peace Dave. My deepest sympathies to your family.