Brothers and Sisters,
The fire service is a complicated thing. We have all chosen to give much of ourselves and it is hard to know the true cost of that decision. There are many moving parts to human beings, to understand and perfectly protect all that makes us human is an impossible thing. But we try.
We are compassionate, we are giving, we are empathetic, we know how to love. We understand fear, loss, suffering and grief. Life in general for anyone can be overwhelming at times. What can be difficult to know is how we, along with those in our lives that we love, are further impacted by the things we willingly see and do in our profession.
We frequently say things like “that’s my job”….”I know what I signed up for”….”I’m fine”…..
While all of these things can be true, they cannot be true all of the time. I encourage every one of us to take time to connect with our families. To talk with each other honestly and openly about how we are feeling when times are great, and also how we are feeling when times are bad and things don’t quite feel right.
If I asked each of you to lift a 5 pound bag I have no doubt that you would. If I asked you to come back for another, I know that you would. If I asked you to keep coming back, it is our nature to help. After all, what’s a 5 pound bag? I know I can lift it, I’ve lifted it before. I know I can lift many more. What we also need to know is – when is it the right time to put one down, to put a lot of them down, or to put them all down for a little while. If we keep coming back eventually there will be a 5 pound bag that we cannot lift. We won’t always know when we will try to lift that one or how badly it may hurt us or those we love if we try. We don’t mean to hurt anyone, we mean quite the opposite. We want to help as we always do.
Please know that it is ok to come across that 5 pound bag that you can’t lift. It doesn’t mean you can never lift it, it just means that for right now…..you could use a hand. It is absolutely ok to not be ok. We are all human and with all that human means; we can be strong, we can be generous, we can be brave, we can be heroic. We also, every one of us, can be weaker than we used to be even if only for a while. We can need more than we are able to give. We can be afraid and we can be hurt.
Through meeting with and sharing with so many of you I have learned the power of a conversation. I learned how to share all that makes me human with you. It isn’t always comfortable but it is always healing. It is hard, if not impossible at times to see someone’s hurt. Often we do our best to show those around us anything but the hurt. Recognizing how hard it is to see it in others, please know it is never hard to create a soft place to land. It is something that we can do if we are honest with ourselves and others about our human status. I may never know when you are hurting but you can always know that it is ok that you are not ok. That’s the human in you. What we can do is create a fire service where we accept all that makes us human. The best and the worst. Please never underestimate how powerful a conversation can be. With your peers, with your family, with your counselor, with your clergy, with anyone you know in your life that has made it safe for you to be human.
We demand the best gear so we don’t suffer burns, we demand the best respiratory protection so that we don’t develop illnesses and injuries. We wash our nomex hoods because we know they pose cancer risks. We do all the things necessary to protect our bodies. We do our best to make unsafe jobs as safe as possible. Our bodies, after all, are only vehicles for who we really are. We are our minds, our hearts. We can give to each other that same protection for who we truly are.
Please make it safe for you and those around you to not be ok today. Make it safe to struggle. Help each other with those 5 pound bags. This starts with all of us recognizing it is ok to ask for help with them. Every amazing thing ever done by a firefighter no matter how heroic, was done by a human being. We as humans are capable of those amazing heroic acts. We can feel excited, we can feel joy, we can be proud and look forward to tomorrow. We can also, every one of us at times, fail. We can be afraid, we can be sad and regret that tomorrow is coming. Knowing that this is true and also very much ok can be a bridge to all of us being the best us we can be.
Make it safe. Listen to each other. It’s ok to not be ok. Just know that you don’t have to stay there. You can and will be ok again.
Illinois firefighter peer support is there for you,
React for Ryan is there for you,
Counselors are there for you,
We are all here for each other.
AFFI District 4 Vice President