Fire Lieutenant Uses fiction to Talk About PTSD
Sometimes the job almost kills you, even when you’re off-duty.
In 2007, I responded to a devastating auto accident in which a young boy my son’s age lost his life. I had witnessed many people young and old die by that point of my career but something about that call really did a number on me. I knew it right away, too. As I stood in the middle of a closed freeway and watched a medical helicopter lift from the grassy median, I knew something was different.
After the accident, I began exhibiting signs of PTSD. While I blew them off as something I would get past on my own, my family and friends recognized something had changed in me. Several things happened over the next year. I almost lost my marriage (sleeping on the couch more than once), missed nearly a year of my son’s life as I stared at a vapid TV screen day after day, and lost my compassion for the job. I knew that wasn’t me, but I was in a different frame of mind. As I searched for a way out of my downward spiral, I turned to writing and have been writing since.
My wife and family stuck with me throughout my deterioration until we were nearing a breaking point. After nearly a year of anger and suffering, I agreed to see someone.
I was one of the lucky ones. With the help of my fire department’s resources, loving family and friends, a recognition that something was wrong, and a determination to get better, I was able to fully recover over time, and I feel stronger today because of it.
PTSD is a serious issue in the fire service. Over my career, I have lost a half-dozen coworkers and friends to suicide and most of the time those suicides came as a surprise to everyone. It is a national emergency and recognizing PTSD as early as possibly is crucial to getting through it.
Now that we’re a few years later, I’ve found a way to bring increased awareness to the issue. Since my ordeal, I have sought a creative way to shine a light on PTSD without much success. That was until now.
Using Charles Dickens’s wonderful novella A Christmas Carol as a template, I’ve created something early readers are calling unique and heart-wrenching. Because I use my own story and experiences, I bring an authenticity and emotion to this tale.
In A Firefighter Christmas Carol, fictional firefighter Elliot’s PTSD replaces Scrooge’s greed as our protagonist’s main demon. Elliot is headed for suicide unless ghostly visitors to the fire house one Christmas Eve can pull him from the brink. Though this tale is raw and unflinching, it carries hope and awareness as well.
I have several goals for this story. First, I hope to show others who are suffering that they’re not alone. I want to show them there is a way out, even if this particular story uses a fictional supernatural flair to find it. And finally, I want to show them and those close to them what to look for, so they can recognize the triggers before it’s too late. If my story can help even one person, it’ll make the pain I went through worth the struggle.
A Firefighter Christmas Carol and Other Stories releases on October 19, 2021 and is available at all online bookstores for preorder now.
Douglas R. Brown has been in the fire service for almost 30 years with the last 10+ years as a lieutenant on Columbus, Ohio Division of Fire. He has been married since 1996 and has a son and a few dogs. A Firefighter Christmas Carol and Other Stories is dedicated to first responders everywhere.