While easy to stay silent as one of our brother firefighters faces assault charges, we thought it better to speak up. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to draw light to the amazing work your firefighters do everyday and talk about what challenges this creates as the years go by. 

First, I’ll start with this; this year your firefighters who serve the communities of Yelm and Rainier (and several others), are on track to respond to over 3,500 emergency calls for service. This is a huge increase even over the past 10 years. To date, we currently have the fastest turn out time in the history of the organization. We also have the fastest overall response times to emergencies in the history of the organization. We have the fastest patient extrication times we’ve ever recorded and the lowest insurance rating. This is all possible with the work and dedication our members put in and the leadership of our administration at SE Thurston Fire Authority. 

Our responses this year have often extended past our own borders. We responded to the Amtrak train derailment and helped treat nearly 100 patients. Members of our Wildland strike team and SORT (special operations rescue team) spent several weeks assisting wildfires in Washington, Oregon and California. With low staffing for our brothers and sisters at the South Pierce Fire & Rescue, we are routinely called to assist with fires in Roy and rural South Pierce County. 

The work is difficult but we enjoy it. This type of calling to public service is unlike any other and it’s an honor to have the privilege to do so. It’s rewarding to help people, but it comes with a price. Sometimes we encounter a situation we can’t do much other than be present. The fire has already destroyed, the abuse has already occurred or a loved one has already died. Our feelings of helplessness stays with us. Year after year this builds up. We have long heard of survivors guilt and PTSD but in the fire service, have not done much about it. This is a new era for firefighters and we realize that we are not only accountable to you, the citizens,  but also to each other. We are responsible for looking after each other far after the final alarm. We need to recognize different patterns of behavior and get our own members help before PTSD takes ahold. Untreated, it’s easy for people to self medicate and become addicted to a variety of substances. Depression sets in. All this leads to problems at work, divorce and suicide. We have to take care of each other so we can all go home to our families whole and not a shell of who we used to be. We owe that to them and we owe that to you, our citizens, who entrust us to be there for you. Washington State just became one of the first in the nation to recognize PTSD as a workers illness for first responders. Just last spring, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) opened the Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery near Baltimore, MD. We have the resources and are changing our culture to seek out help early and often. 

In closing, all of the firefighters here at SE Thurston Fire Authority are proud of this community. We’ve seen the growth and have developed relationships here that will last forever. As I mentioned before, it’s an honor to have the privilege to serve this community. We are and always will be here for you! 

Brian Richardson is a lieutenant for Southeast Thurston Fire Authority and serves of vice president of IAFF Local 3628.

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