It has been a long time coming for Keith. I’m sure we all know this struggle! The journey is different for everyone, and he is no exception. Thank you for sharing brother!
Don’t Focus on the distance. Focus on making the first step.
I have been in the fire service for just over twenty-four years. I started out with a small volunteer fire department, that averaged 400 calls a year. After fifteen years with that department, I felt that I needed a change, but did I really need a change? I made a move to another local fire department, which was a combination department, running an average of 1200 calls a year. I am quickly approaching 9 ½ years there and I hold the rank of Division Fire Chief. As part of the fire service, I dabble with a couple extra side projects, being a member of a local TRT, where I hold the rank of a Safety Officer. I have also been playing with the pipes and drums for 7 years, as a tenor drummer.
Only being in the fire service for 7 months, I wanted to get into the medical side of things, so I received my Medical First Responder cert through the state of Indiana in 1996. I held onto that cert for three years, then advancing to an EMT, which I re-certified last year in September at twenty years. I also spent eight years with a local Fire Investigation Strike Team. As First Responders, we see people at their worse time, whether it is a family standing in front their burning house, or family members standing-by as we do CPR on their loved one. I have been countless of what we call “BAD” calls, but never really had an issue. We didn’t really talk about the calls. I thought I was just cold hearted “lets get the truck back in service and ready for the next run” and I went on my way.
The morning of August 28th, 2001 is a date that will always be etched into my mind. At 01:25, we were toned out for an MVA with entrapment. I was on the second do truck arriving on scene. The Fire Chief and Medics were already on scene. I walked up to the paramedic hanging out of the rear window of a Pontiac grand-am, that had hydroplaned and slammed into the passenger side door, asking what he needed. The paramedic responded “This one is DOA, focus on the passenger”, so I went to work on freeing the passenger. We had to cut the passenger side door off. Since I was the smallest, I squeezed into the back seat, to hold C-spine, as the others worked on freeing the patient from the wreckage. We get the patient onto a spine board, packaged for transport, and loaded into the ambulance. We took off to the hospital. While en-route to the hospital, I tried locating an ID on the patient, which I did, and my heart sunk. It was someone I knew. The injuries were so bad, I couldn’t even tell who it was. I found out talking to her sister, in 2018, that she had passed away in October of 2012. My heart sunk again.
Besides the fire department, I have felt the stresses of life. Losing a cousin to suicide in 1999, losing my dad to cardiac issues in 2004, losing my older brother to CHF in 2017, losing 3 ½ years of time between me and my twin brother (that I will never get back), my twin brother’s suicide attempt in 2018, loss of jobs, and dealing with medical issues. I make no bones about it, I have thought about suicide on more than one occasion, but I always revert back to “What would I solving by doing this” and my answer is “Nothing”. I am only going to hurt the ones that love me. I have never really accepted everything that has happen. On the surface I do, but deep down inside is a different story. As time has gone by I have noticed that my fuse has become very short, I am quick to spout off at the mouth, my mood changes on a regular bases, and my anger level has magnified by ten. Back in August of 2018, the step-daughter and I got in to a heated discussion and the end result was I grabbed her by the throat and I pinned her to her bed. She then pushed me off of her and I slammed into the wall. After that it was like time stood still, in my mind I re-acted the event that just took place, in complete awe, I grabbed a few things and left the house for a few hours. It was at that time, that I realized I needed to seek professional help, which I did, however it did not last long. I felt the therapist wasn’t a good fit for me.
In the last two years, I can’t tell you what a good night sleep is, because I don’t sleep. Between dreaming about past calls with the fire departments, off the wall dreams, not being able to switch my brain off sometimes, it is rough. Last semester in college, I took a communications class. We got to pick our own topics for our speeches. A lot of my topics were involving mental health among first responders, because I have a handful of friends (Brothers and Sisters) that are dealing with this beast head on. As I collected my research for the various speech topics, it started to sink in, that maybe I have a problem, which has been showing itself for a while now, but I am to blind to see it. Now with all the research I did, I wanted to put on a Mental Health Awareness class for my firefighters, since mental health is a big thing among the fire service today. I started thinking about the class and had the idea of “Why share it with just my personnel, when I can share it with others”. I went that direction and opened the class up to all emergency personnel, dispatch, corrections, hospital staff, social workers, but most important, the significant others. I felt they needed the training, just as bad as we did. The class went over well. A few things transpired during the class that I was not expecting. I do believe that things happen for a reason, and because of that class, I had part in getting someone the help that they need, but at the same time I am going to get the help I need. One slide stood out to my wife and as we were sitting there, she looked at me and said “That is you”. By her saying that, was the “Boot in the ass” I have needed.
I reached out to a local therapist that has experience with first responders, which was recommended by one of the class attendees. The down side is he is not accepting new patients, so I got discouraged. I ended up being put on their waiting list and they also recommended two other local therapists. I did some research on the recommended therapist and chose one of them, but put off calling them. This past Saturday, while eating breakfast with my wife and a friend. We had a pretty deep topic transpiring at the breakfast table, when I opened my mouth and added in a tearing/sniffling voice “Sometimes I pray before I go to bed, that I don’t wake up the next morning”, “I just want all of it to go away, everything”, and I thought my wife was going to lose it. With that being said, yesterday I made an appointment with the therapist, which is scheduled in April. It wasn’t after talking insurance stuff with the therapist, I get a text from Brian. To find out my wife had contacted Brian, after what I said on Saturday, because she knew I wasn’t in the right state of mind. Knowing that I have my wife, friends, and loved ones behind me, “It is time to make the first step”.
Therapy has been going well. I have made small improvements. Remember it is not a race.
Since this was written, I have retired from the fire service, effective 9/2/2020.
Division Chief/EMT (ret)
Keith T. Austin