Cal Fire Peer SupportStart Date: 01/29/2021
Fri am. Continuation of Cal Fire Peer Support visits to fire stations in Riverside County. Captain Jeremy Sanders and Chaplain Jim Savage were both with Maxx and I throughout the day on visits to 5 stations in the East County. We came prepared for rainy cold weather but only had a few scattered drops the entire day. We were invited inside to most of the stations and stood outside in the engine bays for a couple visits. Most all the guys wore masks, kept social distance and were mindful of safety precautions. I felt perfectly comfortable at every visit. I had wipes in my car and gave Maxx a very quick rub down between fire stations. Jeremy gave the guys at each station opportunity to vent their feelings and frustrations over situations of understaffing due to guys out sick with Covid, forced overtime with little to no days off for weeks at a time, dealing with a 10% pay cuts due to State budgets, but still huge increases in workloads, feeling very little support from the Chief, not getting what they need for their stations when requested, and general feeling of both mental and physical exhaustion and stress. As mentioned in previous report from another Team, these guys are in desperate need of immediate change and action from the top ranks and State and not necessarily comfort and consoling from us. They were all however, thankful for us coming, polite and offering us coffee or water and did make us feel comfortable while we were there. The stories were the same at each station. Some were almost hard to comprehend. The general feelings of hopelessness and frustration were present at every single station. Many of these guys have not had a day off in weeks, and don't even know when their next day off is coming. The guys all did take the time to pet Maxx, thank us for driving out from AZ, etc. but their heads and hearts just seemed elsewhere.
Maxx and I finished up last visit and went to our hotel room feeling somewhat helpless and just emotionally saddened for all that these guys are dealing with and trying to cope with. They are our first responders and deserve much better.
Sat. am met with Amber Henderson and Captain Mike DeLeo both with Employee Support Services/Peer Support in Moreno Valley about an hour away from my hotel room, in the West side County. Both previously firefighters and Medic, now doing Peer Support work throughout the entire State of CA. Amber had called ahead to let 5-6 stations know to expect us during the day for a visit. At our first meet up station of the morning the guys got called out just as we were arriving. We waited about 35-40 minutes for them and decided to go on to next station and return to this Station #65 later in day. The venting, and stories repeated their familiar notes of frustrations throughout our visits.
Both days the stations were offered coping mechanisms, numbers for help if they wanted to reach out for counseling. Assistance also available for their wives, or significant other dealing with the stress of being alone. One guy said his wife hated to see him leave for work anymore as she had no idea when he was going to come home next. Many are going through emotional stress in their personal relationships, including divorces rampant at many stations. These guys are spent, on the brink and need change now. One Captain, expressing point blank "What is going to take? One of my guys to take a bullet?" It was heart wrenching to listen to honestly.
Later in the afternoon after our lunch break, we did return to Station 65 where there were 3 guys... the Captain and two fairly new young guys. The Captain spoke and the two young guys sat on the floor and petted Maxx for the entire hour and 30 minutes that we stayed there. Maxx went right over to both of them and laid down close. Even Amber commenting that Maxx "knows exactly what to do!" Photo op perfectly presented itself and I captured the moments (asked permission and got photo releases signed too). When Maxx completely relaxed and laid his head down in one of the guy's lap, it almost brought everyone in the room to tears. It was just what was needed for these guys and they never moved off the floor by Maxx the entire time. I got the feeling the two young guys just felt overwhelmed and unsure and their Captain said, "This is NOT what they signed up for!" One was now the main truck driver, having never driven a fire truck before and he did tell us he was so exhausted that his main objective was just to not get in an accident while driving to a call. I was so thankful that we stopped back by this station and spent time there. It was truly the best highlight of our two days spent there and Maxx made an obvious difference to those two young men.