Today another good man and chief received the full honors of a Fire Department procession. He was loved by all, which was evident by the support of the local departments. For me, it was more personal than professional.
Throughout my career, I have witnessed many horrible things. From my time in Afghanistan to just working on the streets of Charleston, several visions will continue to haunt me in my sleep. While most of these were put off until I had the ability to deal with them, I realized after my first encounter with Chief Winn, that they were not something I had to handle alone.
After holding the hand of a dying 16 year old in the back of an ambulance, I returned to my station to find Chief Winn and his associates waiting for me and my crew. Years of experience had led me to the conclusion that they were the Critical Incident Stress Management team sent to see how we were doing after a tough call. What I did not know at the time was that they had heard about the call through informal channels and volunteered to show up. The smallest gesture of giving me someone to talk to has helped more than imaginable.
Many of the tough calls I have been on, including a 76 person mass casualty event in Afghanistan, still bother me from time to time. Even after the mandatory Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, I was bothered by the images of dead people. The one difference between the 16 year old and all of the other bad calls is that I don’t remember the specific details or the kids face anymore. While many people can argue as to why, I like to think it was Chief Winn’s intervention that allowed me to process everything and let it go. In a career that exposes you to many gruesome and sometimes despicable things, eliminating one of the “ghosts” is a huge deal. Knowing Chief Winn has made me a better and stronger person. Prior to him touching my life, I always blew off the debriefings and defusing sessions as a necessary thing to be checked off. The traditional concept of being the “big tough firefighter” stood in the way of seeking the help I needed. Being a company officer, it is sometimes hard to see the long lasting effects of the decisions we make. Turning down help for you or your crew is never the smart thing to do. We are charged with the responsibility of sending our people home the same way or perhaps better than they arrived to work. This includes mind and body.
For me, saying good bye to Chief Winn was more than a professional gesture that was deserved by his years of service; it was saying thank you for supporting me when I didn’t even know I needed it. My story is one out of many that attests to the life of a hero and like other heroes, the stories told of someone’s deeds will make them live on in the hearts and minds of others forever!
Thank you for your service and for helping me!