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How John, the firey, bounced back after his traumatic experience at work

Feb 27, 2024

John was very well versed in being a firey and had worked in the role for many years. He had seen it all and was coping admirably in not only keeping himself safe but also ensuring the safety of his crew.

Over 6 months ago a call came into the station while he was on duty and he and his crew members were assigned to a local house fire. Nothing unusual in that as they get called out to these quite regularly. They had no idea whether anyone was involved in the incident so went along expecting all eventualities as usual.

When John and his crew arrived, the house was ablaze still and they had to act fast in searching the property for signs of life. He had been here many times before and knew the drill. As he approached the entrance to the house, he heard distress calls from people crying out for help including children’s voices coming from the second floor.

The heat was tremendous and he tried his best to venture up the stairs towards the distress calls crying out for help. John was fought back by the fire but still tried to persist the best he could knowing he was racing against the clock and fast running out of time. 

The voices and coughing stopped and he couldn’t get through to help them. His only choice to ensure the safety of his own life was to go back and get out of the property as debris was starting to fall and block his route back.

Although John has experienced many similar traumatic incidents, he had always been able to help survivors leave such an atrocity, albeit in a severely injured state, this time it wasn’t to be and 3 people including 2 children lost their lives that day.

The children were the same age as his children and left him feeling distraught and guilty that he should have tried harder to save them. He kept thinking this could have been his family in the fire, how he had no power to save them, and how the fire could have taken his own life had he not gotten out when he did. John didn’t feel good about himself for having to leave them to die to save his own life.

John felt like a failure and guilty that he was not only risking his own life but risking his children being left without a father; that one day he wouldn’t get out in time. Even months later he was still having visual and auditory flashbacks/hallucinations of the fire and the distress calls going around his mind. He would wake up in the night and find himself running into his children's bedroom with dread that something seriously bad had happened to them.

He would try and push these thoughts away but they were starting to persist more regularly, and severely disturbing his daily functioning. His ability to sleep was affected due to being woken up in the middle of a nightmare and unable to get back to sleep, and it soon got to a point where he was not wanting to go to sleep at all in case he had nightmares and how exhausted and traumatised he felt from having them.

John would avoid watching TV, and when he heard the sirens of emergency services it would send him into a spiral of panic. He was feeling depressed and anxious a lot of the time and was unable to go back to work or let his children be anywhere where he felt they would be unsafe and out of site.

John had a very supportive and loving partner who fully understood what he was going through and hoped that with time his experiences would pass. However, she realised that he needed help to recover from this as things weren't improving and he wasn't leaving the house, never mind able to go back to his job which he loved so much. She wanted her John back and had gone as far as she could to help him. His behaviour was getting too much and causing problems in the relationship, so she helped him to seek help and he booked an initial consult.

It was hard at first for John to engage in therapy due to how he had been dealing with his memories of the event. He had built strategies to dissociate himself from having to think about the trauma and was suppressing the memories when they arose or distracting his mind by changing/avoiding conversations about it. He had also started drinking more alcohol to help him relax and manage the awful panic feelings he was getting in his body. The trouble was that what started as a useful remedy for him on an evening, was becoming something he was now doing more regularly throughout the day.

John had a few sessions to help him relax and begin to gain control of his thoughts and feelings and reduce his distress when connecting with the memories rather than pushing them away. Within a couple more sessions he was able to do more prolonged imaginal exposure and start to feel differently about himself and the event.

He made great progress at home with the exercises he was given and had more control over how he was coping with his partner and children. He was able to reduce his safety behaviours and could leave the house by himself and/or the family, and drive because he was no longer drinking alcohol during the day.

John had made a full recovery and within months was back at work. His family life returned to normal and he became less and less protective of his family being away from him. He was able to return to watching TV and felt nothing now on hearing sirens other than how privileged he felt to be doing the job he was doing. His sleep returned to normal and the nightmares and panic attacks vanished.


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