The Ultimate Fire (PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in First Responders)

When Will “Red Beard” Wood and my Beardedself hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail, our first resupply was in Reliance, TN at a place called Hiwassee Waterwater Co./Flip Flop Burgers. That’s where we met Bryan Mayhew. Even though I didn’t know Bryan, I instantly felt we had more in common than we both realized. After spending 24 hours with Bryan I learned a lot about him. I learned that my initial feeling was absolutely correct. I learned that Bryan wasn’t only a veteran firefighter & paramedic, but he too was dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). That’s when I asked him if he would be willing to share his store and be a guest blogger. Bryan instantly said yes and shortly sent me this article to post.

Here’s a short bio on Bryan;

Bryan Mayhew primarily grew up in Middle Tennessee from the beginning of high school on. He spent 27 years in public safety serving in the roles of paramedic, firefighter and instructor. Took an early retirement after being with Nashville Fire Department for 20 years and opened a business riverside on the Hiwassee River in Reliance, TN. Bryan and his wife now operate Hiwassee Whitewater Company an up and coming outfitters store with lodging and Flip-Flop Burgers. He has been married to his wife Mechell for 26 years having two children and two grandchildren.

“If you said you wanted to walk in my shoes, I would destroy them. If you said you wanted to see what I have seen through my eyes, I would close them. This is not to blind the truth, but to hide the pain that firefighters, ems and police feel every day. I am a veteran of public safety for over 27 years. I started out as a volunteer with countless hours doing what I thought was going to be exciting and glamorous. Over a career of responding to emergencies some of the calls never go away. Having a strong heart and solid soul with an upbringing of helping others, you slowly find yourself encompassed in an emotional battle that leaves no victor. I have continued the path of caring for the sick and injured by becoming and emergency medical technician. The educational process was progressive from E.M.T. to paramedic to firefighter and onto instructor. I went from volunteer through convalescent and into rural E.M.S. After leaving rural EMS I became employed with a large metropolitan department. I took an early retirement after 20 years of service. To add validity to my awareness I was stationed on the busiest ambulance in the United States 2000-2001 according to a national firehouse publication, four shifts doing 9000 calls. This is common to many departments across our nation. I don’t feel specific detail of calls are necessary, but a general knowledge allows more than enough information to protect you from vivid unnecessary mental images.  If arriving on the scene of one horrific incident isn’t enough……add the progression of hundreds to your daily thoughts. This does not include the thousands of calls made since the start. Lives and families are ruined by the same need and care that we provide. Post-traumatic stress is real and relentless in it’s victims.

You never know what response will affect you the most. The response is an interpretation of actions from the individuals involved in any incident. This can be a victim, family, bystander, responder or organization. The stresses from a regular response are cumulative and have their own directional channel. Begin to add a personal attachment and empathy with the victims. When you turn towards a support mechanism that should be in place, you meet with employer resistance and political agendas. Time has changed society to the point of compromising its integrity. Being a responder now holds an incredible amount of liability and personal safety concern from violence to disease.  A single novel could not portray most responder’s struggles in life, unfortunately a single moment has ended many by their own inability to cope.

Some people might wonder why a simple action would trigger an unusual response. For a responder what most people would find uncommon becomes ordinary by repetitious mental imaging. I have always tried to help others, even when it has meant sacrificing a part of myself. I have tried to give a bedside manner that is comforting to my patient and their family regardless of the circumstances or their demaenor towards me. I have found myself distancing from my family in hopes of not having to feel the pain that I share with the victims that I respond to. Realizing some of the abrupt and horrific incidents and endings to life you never want to share with others. Some people ask what the worst thing you have ever seen, But I have never heard what is the worst you have ever felt. I wouldn’t answer that question because it’s beyond anything I have ever seen.

Supporting those suffering from post-traumatic stress can vary from a simple kind word when needed to others requiring prolonged intervention. Be supportive of your friends and family that serve and protect because you can be the difference in their life.”

Bryan Mayhew,

I would like to thank Bryan and his wife Mechell for not only showing me the absolute warmest hospitality when I stayed at Hiwassee Whitewater Co., but also for their friendship. When I left their place after my resupply during my BMT hike, I felt like I was leaving my family behind. I’ve never felt that way about a hostel or resupply point. I felt that way cause they took me in and treated me like family. Bryan and I shared a special bond. We had both seen and done things during our public service carriers that we couldn’t talk about and things that haunted us. Plus it’s hard to put into words what we’ve experienced. But one thing is certain. We’ve both found ways to cope with it. We’ve both chosen to not be the monsters that PTS can turn you into. Our faith in God and our love for our families is what inspires us to chose better. Choose to not let PTS control us.

Thank you. Bryan Mayhew for sharing your incredible story with us.

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