LIFESTYLELifeI Have Something But It’s Not PTSD: Jadie’s Story

I Have Something But It’s Not PTSD: Jadie’s Story

By: Jadie Miller, Firefighter & Founder & CEO, PYROC Technologies, Inc.  

Firefighter Miller, ripped from sleep on a hot summer night, responds to a possible structure fire. On route, reports roll in: “Three-story townhome…we have a working fire…smoke showing from the Charlie/Delta corner…possible basement fire…Pump 1 will be laying a line…operating in the offensive strategy…accountability is with Pump 1…alfa side.”  

Miller, assigned to Rescue 1, reports on deck. IC’s voice comes over the radio, “Rescue 1, make entry to assist…” 

What should have felt like the Superbowl of firefighting now causes Miller to abandon the very creed she was sworn into recruit class with ten years before. Nothing left to give and consumed with emptiness, Miller looks at the captain and mutters “Let it burn. I don’t care.” This three-times-a-rookie, who once felt the calling to risk a lot to save a lot, motions to the senior man, “Send him.” 

Surviving the shadows

Willing to throw away any reputation she had earned, Miller falls back into the shadows of the night and whispers an imaginary mayday that even she can’t hear. “Mayday, mayday, mayday; front yard…looking in…Firefighter Miller, is not ok…doesn’t know why and needs to take a knee…”  Dispatch doesn’t respond, IC doesn’t respond, and her confused crew carry out orders without her.  

When Miller wakes up, it’s more than six months later. She finds herself hiding away in a back office of HQ. Masking her injury through a timely secondment, she’s trying to overcome the fear of what her brothers may think of her. Craving to understand what happened, Miller faces the question: Is this PTSD

Managing a mental health injury

Willing to embrace her injury, she spends four years pursuing the healing necessary to rejoin her community, her tribe, and her family. But, PTSD, the one-size-fits-all injury, didn’t fit her. A gaping hole of unanswered questions remained. So now what…compassion fatigue? Nope. Burn-out? Nope. Moral injury? Nope. Perhaps another tool from the tool box? Depression? Nope. Anxiety? Nope…not good enough, still injured. She conducts a 360, and returns to PTSD. Since this is “THE injury” of first responders, she wavers, wanting to follow the crowd with the hope that maybe she missed something in her initial size up. Nope, still injured. It’s not PTSD. 

Is your firefighting toolbox ready?

The firefighting tool box now sits empty. Compassionate care should be about individuals, rather than the stale boxes (such as PTSD) that firefighters are forced to fit into. Someone, somewhere must be able to help turn the ghosts she’s chasing into answers. There is. 

His name is Dr. Christopher Frueh and he is the lead author of a medical paper titled Operator Syndrome:  The unique constellation of medical and behavioral health-care needs of military special operation forces.” 

Miller watched Dr. Frueh from a distance. She needed to know her fire world could trust him. Many had come before him and, unintentionally fueled by bias, had let her brothers and sisters down. This journey was no longer about Miller, it was now about seeking help for others. Everywhere she looked, Frueh’s military family stood united with an intense respect. This was the kind of respect that can be formed through the bonds made when we move towards fire to save one of our own. 

Two years ago, Dr. Frueh agreed to collaborate with Jadie Miller on a firefighting-specific condition that is a collection of interrelated medical, social, and psychological conditions called “Firefighter Syndrome” was born. 

A history on firefighting

Firefighting is a paramilitary profession with origins dating back to the 1600s. It has been shaped by the dedication and sacrifices of those who have served our countries – both Canada and the United States – for hundreds of years. Military name brands flood the fire halls – from a tactical backpack riddled with molle webbing, to elite podcasts and leadership books shared at the kitchen table over coffee.  Most firefighters will agree, there is something special about rookies who once served their country…they fit in quickly. Trust is earned and trust is given. 

It seems to Miller that if the firefighter tool box was now empty for her, she could look to the military to inspire the much-needed change her world needs. Too many firefighters are forced to consider that they have PTSD when perhaps they don’t. PTSD is real; however, not all injured firefighters have PTSD. There’s a bigger picture, a whole-person perspective that takes into account all of the physiological, psychological, and social systems that may be injured in the course of a firefighter’s career. This bigger picture is called “Firefighter Syndrome.” 

Creating and supporting strong firefighters

By adapting the framework used in Operator Syndrome, Miller and Dr. Frueh hope to inspire a whole-system, whole-person approach that will help firefighters be a strong, united voice for their own well-being rather than simply lining up to see if they check one of the industry’s favored boxes. 

For more information on Firefighter Syndrome click HERE

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