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  • Writer's pictureBrian Matzke

The Wounded Heart Club

Working as a Firefighter I was stationed at all the busy fire houses and I loved it. What this meant was we were usually eating on the run and getting called out in the middle of the night. Many of the calls we got called out on where for horrific and traumatic deaths.

I remember numerous traumatic calls my crew and I went on and usually the only outlet for sharing emotions after theses incidents is a form of dark humor that gives the individual an opportunity to talk about the event but in a funny and sarcastic way. This bypasses an actual emotional conversation but still gives a way of releasing some heavy emotions. The other common coping tool for Firefighters is using sexual innuendos and jokes. This is a coping mechanism that reverts the person back to a childhood age. This happens often in the firehouse just through the pure inability to process and communicate emotions. This is a regular occurrence because the trauma brings the persons emotional state internally to a breaking point and when the tools or skill sets are not there then the person reacts from the inner child state.

After I left the fire service I expected to hear from many of the Firefighters I worked with for over a decade. I thought for sure I would receive phone calls and good look wishes. In a department of 700 plus people lets just say 3% reached out. I was able to come to a deeper understanding of this inability to tap into emotions through what I learned from my own healing as a client in therapy and as a therapist myself. Firefighters have a special gift to be able to do intense traumatic work for decades but this gift doesn't come with out its darker side. To show up day in and day out for people in the worst times of there life there becomes a numbing and compartmentalizing of these traumas and of their emotions. I also experienced this numbness in many parts of my life, relationships, friends and family. When I fully started to understand this compartment syndrome I began to understand all the brothers and sisters I call family in the Fire department.

I remember a call I went on as a Firefighter where a 4 year old child had drown in a bathtub. Parents gave the child Tylenol and the bathtub was filled to the top, the child fell asleep from the medicine and was drowned. The whole time we were doing CPR on the child the family thought we would easily revive the child, The Child was never able to be revived. We transported the child to the hospital and it wasn't until I heard the family crying in the trauma room with their full realization of their dead child that I was affected by this traumatic scene. I viscerally remember this experience and how it affected me. I felt so much emotions around this call and I also remember thinking I don't want to feel that again on a conscious and subconscious level.

The experience of trauma after trauma and packing away the emotions tied around these events was a regular occurrence in my career as a Firefighter, I also know its the same for many people that choose that profession. You go from one traumatic death to the next and there is no room or space for emotions so you block it out. The sad part is its gotta go somewhere and when there is no room anymore to compartmentalize it starts to seep out in everyday life.

The reality of all Firefighters, First Responders and Police is they are a ticking time bomb and these symptoms of burn out and emotional compartment syndrome are over flowing in their lives even if they can't see it yet. The answer to this problem is to begin to feel to heal, to talk about what they have seen and face the reality that no matter how many compartments you have to store away the traumas these compartments will eventually fill up and the result will be disastrous.

PTSD and Mental Health are becoming a talked about issue in the Fire Service and also for all emergency workers. The emergency calls are not decreasing so this means that a person in these careers needs the tools of well being because what they see and do will for sure be carried with them for the rest of their lives if they don't feel it and heal it now.

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