Watch: Veteran firefighter speaks out about PTSD
Mike Washington and the critical incident stress management team helps responders talk about stressful incidents in order to keep crews mentally healthy
By FireRescue1 Staff
SEATTLE — A veteran firefighter is doing his part to help first responders come to terms with post-traumatic stress.
In a video by Starbucks, 29-year veteran firefighter Mike Washington, with the Seattle Fire Department, said keeping stress in after difficult calls is like holding a “ticking time bomb.”
“If we don’t find ways to work with that stress, eventually it’s all going to catch up to you, and I’ve been that guy,” Washington said. “I’ve been that guy up until the point that it almost killed me.”
Washington said his problems came to a head when he found out his son was killed in action in Afghanistan. He developed a drinking problem and became suicidal before he decided to get help.
“Without these outside influences saying ‘Mike you need some help, Mike you need to take care of Mike,’ I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Washington said.
Washington and the department’s critical incident stress management team now helps first responders talk through their stress after difficult experiences to keep them mentally healthy.
“When they hear Mike’s story in the beginnings of their careers, it starts to tell them from day one that it’s OK,” Seattle Fire Department Chief Harold Scoggins said. “We know you’re going to be stressed out, but if you are having some challenges, we have some tools for you that are going to help you through this.”
When a 2014 mudslide killed 43 people in Darrington, Wash., Darrington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Denny Fenstermaker said talking to Washington helped him through the tough time.
“This is a guy that understands exactly where I’m at because he’s already been there,” Chief Fenstermaker said. “He’s gone through this so I trust him.”
Washington said it’s important to confide in others about PTSD, because coping with it confidentially would “lack the impact.”
“I’m a better person, I’m a better counselor, I’m a better firefighter because I’m able to say those things out loud,” Washington said.