By Mark Lamplugh
This is the time of year when we all come together to celebrate something, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukah, or whatever tradition you follow during the holiday season. Spending time with our family and friends is something that we do; we ride around on the fire truck, give kids candy canes, have Secret Santas, and throw Christmas parties. December is a time of joy in most of our eyes. Firefighters also know that usually around this time we will see fatalities.
Every year at this time, one particular call from my firefighter experience has reminded me of how fragile life can be. December 27, 2007, is a day I will never forget. At 3:00 a.m. we were dispatched to a house fire. I was on the nozzle on the first-due truck. When we gained access to the house, I preceded to the front door. I saw them just 10 feet from the entrance: a mother and her two-year-old child lying lifeless on the floor. Being so close to the door, they had almost made it to fresh air. Out on the front lawn, we performed CPR on the two victims. They never made it.
I always remember that mother and daughter at Christmastime. Although we mostly focus on the joys of the holidays, Christmas can also bring on a lot of depression. It’s an important time of year to really be on the lookout for signs of depression or suicide in our fellow brothers and sisters. The holidays can bring on the memories of many past incidents. Maybe you know of firefighters who have experienced a recent divorce and, as a result, won’t be spending the time with their kids that they wish they could. Maybe this is the first Christmas a member won’t spend with his parents, who recently passed away.
Depression and suicide are interconnected. Although most people with depression suffer quietly, as many as 15 percent will eventually commit suicide, and roughly 90 percent of suicide cases suffer from clinical depression. These numbers call for us to do what we can to prevent suicide.
So, what can we look for in each other that may be a red flag? What signs do you look for that tell you it’s time to step in and offer help? Would you know the signs of suicide if they were right in front of you? Knowing the following signs may just mean someone lives or dies:
- Withdrawn from family and friends.
- Having difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Feeling tired most of the time.
- Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty.
- Talking about suicide or death.
- Self-destructive behavior such as drinking too much or abusing drugs.
- Losing interest in favorite things or activities.
- Mood swings.
There are many options available for someone who may be struggling through the holidays. If you are unsure of this person’s status, consult with another member that you trust. If you think someone may need help, please feel free to e-mail me. We should try to take a little personal responsibility for each other like we do at the fire scene. The holiday season, for many, is a time of joy, but for some it can be a time of misery. Let’s give the greatest gift we can give someone who might be hurting. Let’s give the change of getting well.
If you recognize any of the warning signs in a fellow firefighter, offer help—it may mean life or death.
The following Internet sites and organizations can assist you:
- National Volunteer Fire Council Member Assistance Program: http://americanaddictioncenters.org/fire-services.
- Life Safety Initiative 13: http://everyonegoeshome.com.
- Firefighters Support Foundation: www.ffsupport.org.
- North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network: http://firefighterveteran.com.
- Federation of Fire Chaplains: http://firechaplains.org.
- International Critical Incident Stress Foundation: http://icisf.org.
- National Fallen Firefighters Foundation: www.firehero.org.
- The Code Green Campaign: http://codegreencampaign.org.
- National Volunteer Fire Council: www.nvfc.org.
Mark Lamplugh is a treatment consultant and a first responder specialist for American Addiction Centers. He can be reached at [email protected] or (610) 675-8461. For 24-hour service, you can reach American Addiction Centers at (866) 53-SOBER.