Tim Casey describes himself as, “a retired firefighter/paramedic, author, lecturer, public speaker and an alcoholic. As a public servant for more than 30 years, I know the hero business from the inside out, and I also know the costs of that profession; the human cost. My passion is trying to help save the lives of lifesavers. Firefighters are dying in record numbers, not on the job but by their own hands. Clinicians and therapists, although well intentioned, do not know how to help emergency workers and I want to help them understand us, and maybe save some lives along the way.
I became a professional firefighter/paramedic at 19 years of age and proceeded to work in that field for the next 31 years. Best job I ever had, the worst job I ever had, and it spanned four decades from 1979 until I retired in 2009. I delivered nine babies over those years, helped save hundreds of lives, and fought enough fire to keep me content into my golden years.
I became a firefighter quite by accident. Right out of high school, I went to work at the largest car dealership in my hometown. Things were going along well until the day I gave my unsolicited opinion to the general manager of the store. He admired the frankness of what I had to say but not the content of my statement.
Later that same day I called my father to tell him the news of my recent separation from work and to ask if he might be aware of any job openings. As in turned out he did know someone was hiring. The chief of a small fire department on the outskirts of town was looking for a firefighter. The next day I interviewed for the position and the day after that I was a fireman.
Looking back, I was too young, inexperienced, and naive to have made that decision; I had no idea of what was to come. I had stumbled into the coolest jobs any man could have. Overnight I went from being a zero to being a hero, an American icon, a firefighter.
I quite literally grew up in fire stations; I started as a teenager, I was married and divorced twice while I was a firefighter, I had three children, became an alcoholic, and survived a suicide attempt over those years. Throughout my entire adult life I was always part of a team and had tremendous resources available to me for all my decision-making – my fellow firefighters were more than willing to help me, especially the older guys who got a vicarious thrill out of hearing about my adventures.
The belief that we as firefighters are a brotherhood and sisterhood is deeply ingrained in our psyches from the outset of our career. No one outside our culture has any grasp on what it is to be a firefighter. People can imagine, but they can only guess how they might feel if they were confronted with the realities of our job.
However, their best guesses are based on film, TV, or literature; they are just that, a guess. If you have never walked in our boots, never walked through fire, death, and disaster, then you will never get it, you will never understand how we feel about each other.
That culture is one of the biggest problems facing the fire service, the notion that being a firefighter prevents us from being normal feeling people, from having emotions, from the damage our experiences, burden us with. It has to be abandoned, or we will suffer more and more tragedies like a result of “pulling on our big boy pants.”
We must learn to care for our own with the same vigor we extend to our customers. We must protect our people from these horrors, care for each other and our families, or we will attend more funerals and us will suffer the loss of great people because of pride, toughness, and bravado. I share my personal story of alcoholism and suicide so that when another firefighter is suffering and feeling they are alone in their struggle, they know they are not alone – that at least one other firefighter has stood in their shoes and made it out of the darkness. It’s me; I have, and I am willing to help in anyway I can.
Below are links to some valuable resources for a starting point.