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Thursday marks the eighth anniversary of the furniture store fire that killed nine Charleston firefighters. One firefighter who survived the fire, and watched as the building collapse on his brothers, spent years fighting another battle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to a recent report.
Travis Howze says his nightmare began when he volunteered to recover the bodies. “It does make me proud to know that I volunteered to go in and bring them out,” Howze says, “although that one decision in my life haunts me more than anything.”
Nearly eight years later Travis’ emotions are raw standing at the site that changed his life forever. It takes him back to that night, where he sees a building with twisted steel, smoke, and fire.
The signs of post-traumatic stress disorder were there but he had no idea. He tried to drink away the pain of having lived when his friends did not. And his hair-trigger temper cost him his job as a firefighter when he got into a fight with a co-worker.
“When I was alone that’s when all you had was time to reflect on that night,” Howze recalls, “and the images that I would see when I would wake up with nightmares in the middle of the night.”
After hitting rock bottom, Travis finally sought help. Through therapy, he began educating himself on PTSD. He gave up drinking and found the best medicine for himself, and for others… stand-up comedy.
“I found that laughter honestly is the best medicine as cliché as it sounds,” Howze says. “It, along with a few other things, really pulled me from the darkest place I’ve ever been and if I can help shed some light on people’s dark days, then that’s all I can ask for.”
Travis may never visit the Charleston 9 memorial again, but he will always have his fallen brothers with him in the form of a tattoo with nine prominent stars. “It covers me up, take ‘em everywhere with me and I just feel like they’re always a part of me,” he says.
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MORE ON THE CHARLESTON 9
- Documentary Focuses on Charleston (SC) Fire Department Recovery After Sofa Super Store Fire
- From Tragedy to Triumph: Lessons Learned in Charleston
- Charleston Sofa Super Store: An Unfiltered Perspective
- London (Ontario) Firefighters Release PTSD Training Video
- Recognizing and Combating Firefighter Stress
- Firefighter Suicide: It Can Happen Anywhere
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: One Firefighter’s Story
- UNDERSTANDING POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
- Living with Trauma in the Firefighter Marriage
- THE COST OF TRAUMATIC STRESS