These were my closing remarks at the MFR Awards Banquet in early January. I felt that they were too important not to share because my message is for the entire fire service. It is time we deal with the PTSD that is ripping through our profession. Matthew Negedly was a friend to many of us and I for one will not let his death be in vain. Matty was sending us a message, we need to listen…
“I would like to share with each of you a few personal thoughts to ponder on for the New Year. As most of you know, I lost a good friend in November. As a matter of fact, the entire fire service lost a good friend, an exceptional instructor, a dedicated chief, and a committed mentor. Matt Negedly, a district chief with the Orlando fire department took his own life amid a myriad of positive achievements, a great career, and a beautiful family. He was even projected to be a candidate for fire chief of the OFD in the not too distant future.
Outside of the fire department Matty at times could be a professional goof. Always trying to one up everyone with twisted pranks and perverted skits. He was very proud of making everyone laugh to the point of tears. He was also a firefighters chief, but more so a firefighters firefighter. Matty NEVER let a mentoring opportunity get away from him. He touched more careers in our fire service than you could ever imagine, including mine. Matt gave no inclination to anyone, including his closest friends, that he was suffering so deeply. If you were told to make a list of 100 people you knew that could potentially commit suicide Matty was never even near being on this list.
Even in Matty’s death he is still mentoring and teaching. Almost like he knew his death would be a wakeup call for so many of us. He has profoundly taught me that life is short, whether at God’s hands or not. That each of us should cherish the life we have and those we call loved ones and friends.
That we should not hold back on saying how we feel to those we love or work with, whether positive or not. He taught me that only the truth is what matters, no Wizard of Oz curtains or the obligatory “Good morning, how are you?” greetings that come with the all too common answer of “I’m doing fine” when truthfully you really are not.
Matt has really opened my eyes and taught me that PTSD in the fire service is at an extreme, almost pandemic like, situation. More firefighters are dying each year from PTSD related injuries than on the emergency scene. With no formal programs in place as of yet, either nationally or statewide, WE are the first line of defense for ourselves against this awful affliction that is sweeping our profession. We have to allow each other the opportunity to drop our defenses; to talk about what is eating away at each other enough to cause you so much emotional pain that you are thinking of harming yourself, or at the very least causing you daily emotional turmoil. Whether this is caused by personal struggles, work related struggles, or both.
I know about this turmoil firsthand. After two years on the job with Pittsburgh 22 years ago I was tasked with my very first structural fire rescue. The problem here is that it was three Pittsburgh firefighters whom I worked with that were down in the building, all in cardiac arrest. Being directly involved with this rescue has taken an enormous toll on me over the years. Mostly the first two or three years after the fire I suffered the greatest PTSD.
As they say the ones who suffer the most dealing with a person going through PTSD that take the biggest brunt of the effects are the family. The mood swings, behavioral changes, refusing to talk about it, and the sleepless nights are just a few of the signs that occur. I am thankful to my wife for helping me through that period of my life. But my story is nothing special, there are thousands of firefighters suffering daily across this country that need our help. I was one of the lucky ones and was able to resolve my PTSD through teaching firefighter rescue skills and telling the Bricelyn Street fire story.
The point of my message is this. We must watch for the signs of trouble within each other. A simple HOW ARE YOU REALLY DOING may be enough to getting an issue off someone’s chest or getting them to professional help. We need to be watching over each other and offering our support whenever needed. We need to start going out of our way for each other. We see and do things on the job that the normal person couldn’t even imagine living with. It’s only common sense that this will catch up with you eventually, regardless of who you are.
At the firehouse, the times of toughguy talk, bashing our brothers and sisters, having the “I don’t care attitude”, and just generally not caring for the welfare of each other must stop. Those unacceptable behaviors are only feeding into the emotional trauma that those we call our brothers and sisters are struggling with. With my 42 years in the fire service profession, the one saying that has always stuck with me is this – “We are our Brother’s keeper”. How fitting for Matty to remind us of these very important words. In his honor we need to live by them…”
James K Crawford
Assistant Fire Chief
Midway Fire Rescue