© The Fire Fighters Charity
Written by Editorial Team, DonateToday
Published: Tuesday, 12th December 2017
'I just burst into tears, uncontrollable sobbing' - the confession of a former firefighter plagued by PTSD while trying to enjoy his retirement
'I was sitting with friends in the pub and from nowhere I just burst into tears, uncontrollable sobbing' – a former firefighter's struggle with PTSD
Roger suffered from a severe case of PTSD, after retiring from the fire service
A former firefighter considered self-harm and even suicide, due to PTSD.
I just burst into tears
Over 5,000 people turn to The Fire Fighters Charity for help each year, accessing a broad range of services connected to both physical and mental health. Retired firefighter Roger Moore attended a week-long course at the charity’s Harcombe House facility to help him deal with a serious case of PTSD.
‘I’d done 30 years at the fire service,’ he explains, ‘I started off as a Firefighter and finished as an Operational Station Commander. I thoroughly enjoyed my career – I’d do it again straight away.
‘I was a Trauma Instructor,’ Roger continues, ‘So I was involved with people who were ill or dying – I have been with people as they have taken their last breaths.
"All my life, I thought I was in charge of my body and my mind, but actually your mind is in charge of you."
‘Coming back to normality – you house, your children, playing in your garden or putting up the Christmas decorations – is one of the hardest things,’ the ex-firefighter admits. ‘You might have been recovering a dead body, picking up an arm or a leg, or watching a teenager die and then, within half an hour, you’re back in your home and your children are putting up the Christmas tree saying, “Daddy, Daddy, look at this.”
‘I retired in 2013 – I was pleased to be retiring and thought nothing was wrong,’ he goes on. ‘A month after, things came to a head: I was sitting in the pub with friends and from nowhere I just burst into tears; uncontrollable sobbing – a complete screen-show shot across the front of my eyes of nearly every dead person I had ever dealt with.’
Your mind's in control of you
Everyday occurrences began to contribute to Roger’s condition. ‘Certain high-pitched noises like smoke alarms, vehicles reversing, lift doors opening – anything that’s an alarm to get the attention of humans to keep them safe started to have terrible effects on me,’ he remembers.
Roger confirms he was having extremely dark thoughts concerning self-harm and even suicide. ‘The horrible thing with this is you can’t control your own head,’ he explains, his voice cracking slightly. ‘All my life, I thought I was in charge of my body and my mind, but actually your mind is in charge of you.’
First class therapy
Understandably concerned, some of Roger’s friends contacted the fire service who suggested their former colleague get in touch with The Fire Fighters Charity.
‘I went down to Harcombe House for a week,’ Roger recalls, ‘Where myself and seven other people from the fire service – some retired and some not – all with health issues, were looked after.’
Roger (pictured with wife Karen) is full of praise for the support he has received from The Fire Fighters Charity
Receiving psychological support from the charity, Roger learned how to cope with his condition, diagnosed as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and is full of praise and gratitude for those who helped him.
‘She [one of the charity’s Psychological Therapists] pointed me in the right direction and is probably the main reason why I am able to use the tools I have to cope,’ he says.
"I got absolutely first class, well-understood, appropriate therapy for firefighters."
‘The support the team at the charity has given me has been fantastic,’ he enthuses. ‘The physical things they do; the exercise they get you to do releases natural endorphins that give you a high when you’re low. The kind of meditation that I’ve done gets you to focus and stop thinking about all the other stuff.
‘I was expecting very basic stuff, but what I actually got was absolutely first class, well-understood, appropriate therapy for firefighters,’ he adds. ‘The week down there definitely saved me from considering doing more serious self-harm and possibly stopped me committing suicide.’
The support is immeasurable
Dr Jill Tolfrey, Chief Executive of The Fire Fighters Charity is well aware of the toll their work can take on firefighters. ‘Everyday firefighting is dangerous, challenging and incredibly demanding of firefighters, both physically and psychologically,’ she says. ‘Incidents can impact people in different ways – some are affected immediately while others, like Roger, may not realise the impact of their work until after they retire.
‘We are here to listen and to help people recognise and to come to terms with these issues, providing them with the tools they need to help them manage their conditions for themselves,’ she finishes.
Roger, too, has a message for any firefighters out there experiencing similar symptoms to his own. ‘Don’t sit in silence,’ he pleads. ‘Don’t sit alone. Don’t see it as a weakness. They do help, and the support is immeasurable – I’m still sat here.
‘Please, benefit yourselves and your families,’ he finishes, ‘Contact the charity and use them.’