As firefighters we usually try to portray ourselves as tough and capable. And for the most part we are. But even tough firefighters have emotions. This story isn’t about all the bad things we’ve seen and the emotional toll it takes on our mental health. But it is about the emotional let down that we may experience after a long two or three week wildland fire assignment. Everyone is different of course. This week’s story is just about my own reactions to the stresses of a long stressful fire assignment. I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences. Please leave a comment.
#63 – Secret Tears (There’s No Crying in Firefighting)
Bobbie Scopa Podcast 1 Minute
Published by Bobbie Scopa
I've been a wildland and municipal firefighter for over 40 years. I've held positions from firefighter up through the ranks to Chief and above. Over the years I've gathered many surprising and funny stories. Most have a good leadership lesson for all of us. I hope you enjoy them. View all posts by Bobbie Scopa
4 thoughts on “#63 – Secret Tears (There’s No Crying in Firefighting)”
I’m replying to Secret Tears. I am a male recently retired after a 42 year career; highest quals DIVS, ICT3, FBAN. I have experienced the same emotions and crying after the majority of the fires I ‘ve been on. I suspect that we are not alone by a long shot; it is a well kept secret. In addition to the reasons you talked about here are my theories. We love the job and when that ends it is sad even though we know we will be going to another one sooner than later. It’s similar to being on a wonderful vacation in Hawaii and then you have to go back to the grind of 40 below zero and snowbanks or 2 straight weeks of rain. We also establish a deep emotional connection with firefighters and the support people, the landowners, etc. and also that same connection, for me at least, with the land, trees, homes that we are trying to protect. And there is a natural release when it is over. And lastly, I am always deeply relieved that nobody on my watch got hurt. What about dreams. Have you done an episode on fire dreams?
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Thanks for your comments. Such an interesting perspective on why we might get emotional after a big incident. You bring up ideas that I hadn’t thought of. I wish we had a better way to communicate between everyone who listens to the story. It would be great to hear from others as well.
I have not done a story about dreams. But that’s a great idea. Now that I’m retired, I have a ton of dreams about being back at a fire station where I’ve gone back to work. All the young firefighters wonder who I am and what I’m doing there. And of course everything is so different I barely know how to pump an engine. I’d love to hear about your dreams too. I’ll give some thougth to a story about dreams.
Thanks for writing and maybe we can keep in touch. Take care Mike.
I’m reminded of a line from the movie Apocalypse Now. The scene takes place after the famous helicopter assault on a small yet hostile Vietnamese village at the mouth of a river that possesses strategical importance. As the main character (Sheen) looks up from a place of cover, while engaged in a conversation with Colonial Kilgore (Duvall), who has just uttered his famous line (“smells like victory”). Kilgore, looks to the horizon nostalgically, unconcerned with the shells falling, and bullets wizzing all around him and says with a hint of sadness and resignation,” One day, this war is going to end.” The scene is meant to convey irony.” Obviously, the wars end would be a good thing, right? Perhaps,,,,, but to the Colonial. To him the end of the war represents the conclusion of his purpose in life.
As my third marriage was expeditiously drawing to a close. I happily distracted myself with the functions of our profession as opposed to those of being a husband. The job was purpose driven, the communication between strangers with a common objective was meaningful and true. All engaged in this moral equivalent of war would agree our efforts were of value and the people who depended on us were appreciative.
Home no longer felt like the place I belonged. My marriage felt more like underslung line. It was becoming difficult to locate a good place to anchor my “real life.” When I would stop at a restaurant or a gas station while traveling to my home unit after a successful assignment on those large fires, I noticed that “normal” people were engaged in activities that seemed to lack cause, while having conversations that annoyed me like being awakened by the static of a television station having gone off the air at 3 in the morning. It annoyed me how meaningless the normalcy of societies mantras seemed. That feeling would grow as I walked through the door of my home. I would be immediately met at the door with a list of extraneous trivialities by the woman who had become more of an adversarial stranger at this point than the girl I had once loved. I’d have that beer I’d been dreaming of, followed by another, and then another. I’d shift uncomfortably in my chair as I tried my hardest not to let the words of the nagging stranger penetrate and destroy the feelings of having worked with others to do something great, something good, and meaningful. Within a couple of hours I would be reading the National Sit Report drunk. Within days I was calling colleagues in other places, saving other subdivisions, while suppressing newer, bigger, fires, and I knew I didn’t belong at home anymore. There was work to be done and it wasn’t on my marriage. There were places to be and those places weren’t at home. I couldn’t call in a tanker drop with a beer and a tv remote from this couch, and what’s that crazy woman screaming about anyway. She almost looked familiar, she reminded of that gal I used to love. Well, it was apparent to me that the arguments having been had, the work clothes being washed, the red bag being packed, I needed to get the “F” outta this place and back to a place where I could engage some spot fires with the amazing people, who did amazing things, for the absolute strangers who made the signs that said “Thank You Firefighters, We Love You!”
Yes, I cried too.
Self awareness can be painful Ron. And as you know, so many of us hide from the important things of life in our work. We tell ourselves how important the work is thereby ignoring our personal hard work.