Emergency service PTSD

Emergency Service PTSD

Emergency service PTSD isn’t always incident specific.

It takes a different breed of person to be a volunteer firefighter. The time commitment in non-emergency operations alone is tremendous. in fact, responding to calls makes up a very small percentage of one’s volunteer time.

Sadly, It is this small window of the hours logged that can have the most detrimental impact on a firefighter’s wellbeing. Of course, there are the obvious physical dangers in firefighting. Running into a burning building is a serious business. Even though I was well aware of the potential physical danger; I was oblivious to the silent injury rarely discussed; the mental injuries I call emergency service PTSD.

So, what is this not so well known injury? Well, whether acknowledged or not, some firefighters are impacted by a debilitating injury known as  Post Traumatic-Stress disorder (PTSD). A tragic consequence of helping one’s community. Unfortunately, for some, It can end up being their ultimate sacrifice.

It’s quite understandable. After all, we see things that no human should ever have to see. With that said, someone has to step forward, right?. All these brave souls can hope for is that they get to the end of their years of service relatively unscathed. for those who are not so lucky, It can be heartbreaking, mind-numbing and something that keeps one up at night.

Great podcast recommendation: Bunker Gear For The Brain


I am by no means an expert on trauma and PTSD, but I live it every day. What I can tell is, my path to it was more than incident-specific. I believe that there may be room to include emergency service PTSD in a category that reflects the damage inflicted by or being witness to multiple critical incidents. Exposure over an extended period of time doesn’t seem to fit the criteria the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistics Manual is looking for.

The American Psychiatric Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, war/combat, rape or other personal violent assaults.

Because EMS workers tend to have prolonged and repetitive exposure, the notion that “a” single traumatic event is a must when diagnosing PTSD, may not do these brave souls’ justice. In fact, it may leave a portion of the traumatized undiagnosed because it may be hard to discern that one particular incident.

From my own experience, those accumulated scenes can play out in nightmares that are not incident-specific and are not recalled with any real regularity. Sometimes I awake feeling like I just relived a fire service memory in real life. I can’t recall the dream, but I know the numbing angst of PTSD well.

Recently, I have learned that I am not the only firefighter who is haunted by their traumatic experiences in this way. Other firefighters have told me that they have similar experiences. Many describe their symptoms as accumulative and can not nail it down to just one event.


They also report creating emergencies in their heads as they navigate throughout their day. For example, speeders on the highway tend to piss us off. Many EMS workers hate to see people speed because they are well aware of the consequences of this behaviour. All they can think about is the potential situation the speeder is putting them in. “Jerk is going to kill someone, and I’m going to be forced to help.”

I truly believe that emergency service PTSD could be a subcategory of the original definition. We relive our most horrific incidents, whether directly or indirectly (the speeder scenario). In other words, we don’t suffer from “a” specific trauma. In fact, we dream and replay many incidents we tried to mitigate. These incidents can impact us, sometimes moment by moment. My way of coping? Run like hell. I mean, if the mental health profession struggles with its diagnostic criteria, how can we be helped?

Finally, I want to take the time to thank everyone in the emergency service community who risk their mental health with every call to action. From firefighters, to paramedics, to police and dispatches, nurses and doctors….. Thank you!

if you are suffering from PTSD or another mental illness, please reach out. I thank you for your service, and you are still worthy and mean something. I believe in you!

If you are struggling please go here: Crisis Services Canada

Contact me on my Facebook page: facebook.com/TRTMW

Emergency service PTSD
Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com – Emergency service PTSD

Mental Illness and EXHAUSTION

Personally, I find very little difference between overextending one’s self physically and when one exceeds their tolerances mentally. The end result is the same, exhaustion. when one has a mental illness,

at least my experience with it, it’s rather like setting cardboard on fire with gasoline, the energy it initially produces is very intense, large flames and a lot of heat but is quickly reduced to a pile of ash because all of its energy has been depleted.

Anyone, mental illness or not, who has worked in both physical work environments and ones that require mostly mental processing can tell you that mental exhaustion is more tiring than being physically tired. I have done them both, personally, I’d rather be body tired any day of the week. I believe that being mentally spent is what oftentimes leads to physical injury and impacts how productive one can be.
Those with a mental health condition often tell me how quickly they burn up their mental energy stores; the more symptomatic they are, the faster they seem to arrive at the point where they are running on fumes. We, those with mental illness need help before we reduced to a pile of ash.

Reasons why people with mental illness are easily exhausted

This is vindication for me in a sense because what they describe is very similar to my own experiences with mental illness. An unexpected consequence of this revelation is that it helps me not feel like I’m trying to sleigh this dragon all by myself.

Recommended reading

I tire easily, PTSD can feel like you are running through a battlefield, so much sudden noise and constant stimulations that the heightened startle response is always in the on position. Not only do I have to contend with this, but I am also always on guard for some sort of emergency, part firefighter conditioning, mostly designed so that I can avoid potential death destruction. I don’t think I manage another critical incident.

This tendency to be easily exhausted has been known to exacerbate my depression. I was once so full of energy and could take on the world, I loved being busy. Now with fatigue setting in so much sooner, I feel like a burden and rather useless. I do my best to shake these thoughts from my head and remind myself that I am no different than someone else who is sick. Sick people tend to tire easily.

As I continue down my road to mental wellness I remind myself to cut myself some slack. My life might not be what it used to be but nonetheless, I am still alive and because of this fact, I will get to where I need to be.

So, If this sounds like you, keeping going but rest when you need to, you may not be able to do what you once were able to do, but you can still do great things.

if you are suffering from PTSD or another mental illness, please reach out. I thank you for your service and you are still worthy and mean something. I believe in you!

If you are struggling please go here: Crisis Services Canada

Want help fund my book? donate: GOFundMe – The Road To Mental Wellness – The book

You may also enjoy: Slowly Walking My Way To Mental Wellness.

Contact me on my Facebook page: facebook.com/TRTMW

Check out my friend’s blog here: anewdawnaa.com


Carbon Monoxide And PTSD.

It’s the middle of February in my home town in Nova Scotia, it’s minus thirty-four with the windchill and just beyond the warm cozy walls of my home, there are blizzard-like conditions raging with such ferocity that one can see but a few feet in front of them. I glance at the time, three A.M. then, the tones shatter the winter night’s silence. Jumping to my feet with the adrenaline flowing I make the treacherous trek to the fire hall, jump on a rig and spend hours in the frigid cold, soaked and frozen, tired and starving.

This scenario was repeated an untold number of times in my fifteen years as a firefighter. Many calls I responded to ended in tragedy; a few of them hit very close to home. What separates the volunteer fire service from any other volunteer organizations isn’t the time and dedication that goes into volunteering, it’s volunteering to run straight into the belly of your communities’ most dire moments, it’s very physically taxing. Also, in a moment your life can be changed forever. The difference is one requires you to sacrifice your time, whilst the other may require you to sacrifice your living, your family and even your life.

For some of us, however, something else happens. As one might well imagine, the things that one encounters as a firefighter takes a significant mental toll. Seeing things that no human should ever have to see, takes a physical toll by virtue of doing all you can to mitigate the suffering. But many, myself included have, and are experiencing a slow accumulation of a different form of exhaustion; A mental stress produced exhaustion.

This mental exhaustion is a by-product of each and every critical incident at least that’s how I experienced it. Known as critical incident stress; check the link for definition, it was slowly poisoning my mental health; first numbing the mind and body for a week or so, then dissipating until the next tragic scene.

For signs and symptoms of Critical Incident Stress check here:  Signs and symptoms of Critical Incident Stress

Looking back now, I never caught on that, even though I seemingly was over the last call and the call before that, these critical incidents were leaving a poisonous residue in their wake. Not only was there remanence of all the things I had witnessed, but it also turns out that these bits were far from benign. In fact, it’s effects are what I call the mental carbon monoxide. Carbon Monoxide is odourless, tasteless and slowly accumulates in the body and can have tragic consequences if gone undetected.

If one is unaware, keeps shoving it deep within and or your department fails to recognize the importance of early intervention, then what can happen is this slow build-up of mental pain that can go undetected for, in my case, years.

The damnedest thing about manning up is that this form of psychological work injury doesn’t care about your manhood, how busy you keep yourself and no matter how hard you try to avoid it. If not dealt with it will, like carbon monoxide, slowly accumulate. And like carbon monoxide, you can’t taste it, can’t smell it and if you can’t detect it you may very well suffer its tragic consequences. When it goes from short term (critical incident stress) to longer-term, Post-traumatic stress disorder, one can then consider themselves clinically sick from letting years and years of psychological trauma fester.

For some very helpful books on PTSDGo Here and take a look.

I have, unfortunately, fallen victim to the man up, tough guy mythology. Now, retired from the fire service and living with PTSD I can tell you that it’s a special kind of hell. Looking back now, PTSD is much harder to confront than it ever would have been to seek out help before the poison of this mental disorder hijacked my mental health and gave me little recourse but to fight for a sense of normality.

http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca Is suicide support and prevention resource: reach out if you need help!

If being a man is all about strength, then use your man strength to reach out. Your family with thank you for it… Make no mistake, this disorder, PTSD can have very deadly consequences if left to fester and spread.

 If you are in need of help please reach out to your local mental health professional.

sicknotweak.com A non-profit organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness.

Want help fund my book? donate: GOFundMe – The Road To Mental Wellness – The book

You may also enjoy: You, Me And PTSD

Email us: roadtomentalwellness@gmail.com

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