FDIC International 2018 Q & A: Dan DeGryse

Dan DeGryse

FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Battalion Chief Daniel DeGryse of the Chicago (IL) Fire Department, who will give his keynote “Straight Talk” at the FDIC 2018 Opening Ceremony, about the whole FDIC International “experience.”

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DR:  How long have you been teaching/attending FDIC International? 

DD:  This will be my fourth year attending, presenting, and exhibiting.

DR:  How did you get into instructing in general? 

DD:  While I have done some instructing in my own department, I began doing it regionally and nationally following a significant number of suicides in my department. I wanted to bring education, awareness, and recovery options to behavioral health issues in the fire service. 

DR:  What sets your experience at FDIC International apart from attending other conferences? 

DD:  From a distance, the obvious points are the sheer size of the venue and the number of attendees and exhibitors. However, once inside and attending the classes, I realized what sets FDIC International apart is the caliber of the presenters, their years of experience, and the passion with which they teach.

DR:  What was your reaction to being selected to keynote at the Opening Ceremony? 

DD:  Well, actually, when Education Director Bobby Halton called me, I said, “Thanks, but I don’t think so.” Not out of disrespect, but after being at FDIC the past three years, I just know what that stage means and the level of a presenter it takes to command the audience. After some further discussion, in which Bobby said it was time for behavioral health to take center stage, I humbly accepted. And then, as I’m sure the keynoters before me can attest to, the pressure set in.

DR:  What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the fire service today and why?

DD:  People who know me would probably expect me to say behavioral health education on issues like post-traumatic stress disorder or suicide, but I have to say that advancements in these topics can only happen with the right leadership. So “leadership,” to me, is the most pressing issue. I say, “Let’s not rest on the laurels of our history or blame the culture for our shortcomings; let’s expect our leaders to lead.”

DR:  What is your “takeaway” from a week at FDIC International? 

DD:  Certainly, I can say pride to be a firefighter in the fire service. It is also one of connection and building relationships and an understanding that there are excellent people and instructors all throughout the nation and the world in the fire service who attend FDIC.

DR:  Who are your FDIC International role models and why? 

DD:  Well, the obvious answer is Bobby Halton, but not for the reason some might think. I have known Bobby for only four short years, and while we all know he is one of the, if not the, most dynamic presenters in the fire service with his sincere and commanding delivery as only Bobby can, I have been more impressed with the preparation, research, and detailed attention he gives to all of his presentations. Another role model is Pete Van Dorpe, not because he comes from the same department as I do, or because he has received the Fire Engineering/ISFSI George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award, but because he presents himself in a confident, strong, experienced, and well-read manner all while being humble and willing to help you better yourself as an instructor.

DR:  What advice do you have for first-time attendees? 

DD:  Don’t limit your exposure to just a few instructors. Challenge yourself to listen to instructors and attend classes and you might not otherwise attend. You may be pleasantly surprised. Also, we all remember coming to our first FDIC. Whether you have one year on the job or 20 years, introduce yourself to other attendees and instructors, soak up the knowledge, and enjoy the experience.

Keynote Presentation: Wednesday, August 25, 2018, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Indiana Convention Center, Sagamore Ballroom 1-7.

Keynote: “Straight Talk”

No matter what department you are from, entering the fire academy drill yard for that first time as a candidate is something that none of us will forget. The excitement, the joy, the anticipation, and the history involved in this are sacred although we all came from different paths, with different upbringings and different beliefs, that day we became brother and sister firefighters/paramedics–something, to this day, we identify ourselves by. However, are we the same? I don’t have to tell you the answer; you know we are not. The question is, was the change for the better?

Throughout our career, we have learned to swing an ax, open a roof, force a door, lead out a line, and operate an apparatus. But how many of us have been offered information or been trained on how to handle the stress and trauma we experience stemming from our occupation? How many of us have ever asked our peers if they have thoughts of suicide? If they have a mental health issue? Or if they are battling an addiction? How many of us have wrestled with any of these issues as well, probably on our own because of fear, personal pride, or lack of understanding or knowledge about where to get help? Let’s talk about this and how we can think better, feel better, and be better.

Bio: Daniel DeGryse is the director of the Rosecrance Florian Program and a battalion chief in the Chicago (IL) Fire Department. He began his career with the Chicago Fire Department in 1989.  He also worked in a private psychiatric hospital for six years providing individual, group, and family therapy for adolescents and adults in the areas of addiction, mental health issues, and behavior management. Following that, he was the coordinator of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for 14 years. While in this position, he started the Chicago Firefighters Union Peer Support program called “Gatekeepers,” providing training for team members on addiction and mental health issues, suicide, and related topics.

In 2014, he created the Florian Program with Rosecrance Health Network and serves as the director. Florian is a 14-bed unit within Rosecrance that provides inpatient treatment for firefighters and paramedics dealing with substance abuse and co-occurring issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  This program was expanded in 2017 to include all first responders and military personnel.

He has a bachelor of science degree in fire science management from Southern Illinois University and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Wabash College. He is a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP), a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (CADC), a Certified Labor Assistance Professional (LAP/C), and a Certified ARISE Interventionist (CAI); has advanced training in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and assist level training in suicide prevention; and received the “Illinois Firefighter of the Year” award in 2009 from the Illinois VFW.

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