We were in a smoky first floor above a basement fire. We didn't know it had burned itself out. We had just entered and had the line at the top of the stairs. I had plenty of air in my SCBA. We really hadn't gone to work yet.
It wasn't even that hot.
All of the sudden, my mind felt like it was 2003 and I was in a bunker with those same missiles being shot at me again. I guess that's what they call a flashback.
Fear. A wave of it washed over me.
I was paralyzed. On one hand, my brain knew what was happening. I was just scared, no big deal. On the other hand, my brain was trying to activate all of the responses that our training tells us are incorrect: stand up, rip that thing off your face, run.
The dictionary lists fear as "A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger."
Funny how a definition just doesn't do it justice.
Frankly, this whole situation ticks me off. I've been firefighting for a long time. This was by no means my first fire. It wasn't even a good fire.
A mentor told me once, "Courage isn't the absence of fear; it's doing what you have to do in spite of being afraid."
So in spite of the potential embarrassment or ridicule, I'm going to share this with all of you, 30,000+ strangers.
Why? Because I really don't want to.
But maybe if you respond, and we all share our stories like this, we'll demystify it.
Maybe we can help that brother or sister who's been struggling with it.
Sometimes we get those feelings of fear and anxiety for no reason. Maybe it's the subconscious acting up. Maybe it's extra stressors from your daily life taking a toll on you during an extra stressful point in time.
Personally I'd suggest taking sometime to yourself. Do something to take the stress off of your shoulders. Go out and get a few drinks with some friends, go exercise, watch a movie, ect.
Im pretty new in my FD (only little over a yr) and have only been to minor fires n did not go inside. We do not get many in my town. I will admit that I am a little nervous about my first one that I will have to go in. I have heard alot of my seasoned firefighter friends say that they do get a bit of fear in them and I believe if that you dont have that fear inside of you that is when you are going to get hurt because you feel that you are invincible and cannot get hurt.
There are two ways to handle fear. You can either give in to it and allow it to overwhelm you, or you can put it to good use.
Fear needs to be channeled into your psychi to develope a healthy respect for the fire and the dangers it presents. Use your fear to create an awareness of where you are and the conditions around you. A healthy respect and awareness usually leads to a greater sense of fireground safety.
A lond time ago I came to the realization that the "fearless firefighter" is, more times than not, the one who gets themself or others hurt. There were several people over the years that I just simply refused to go into a dangerous situation with because they were fearless...which I realate to being reckless.
Well said, I agree 100%. Anyone that does not have some degree of fear will have no respect for the fire or its behaviour. Too much fear is probably not a good thing either, panic leads to poor judgments and the same results as no fear, but as Bob said channeled into a healthy respect for the conditions it will keep you working safe inside and bring you out when you know you shouldn't be inside anymore. And I think anyone that would take this opportunity to ridicule you for having this fear should perhaps pick a new career, I don't think you have alot to worry about in that respect.
I had a similar situtaion about a year ago. We responded to a house fire that was going pretty good when we arrived. Approx. 2 months prior to this there was a VFF killed in a house fire when the roof collapsed on him. This happened in a city about an hour away from us. I was on the first attack line with another captain and he was yelling at me to go in. but as I stood there seeing the fire was coming from under eves and that it had breeched the roof I just froze, all I could think about was that FF that died, and the possibility of this roof collapsing on me. This was not my first fire and this had never happened before, I still dont know why it happened and have been to other house fires since then and have had no problem.
I'm really happy to see you post this. You need the help of your brothers and sisters. At some point in our careers something will happen that will scare the $#!t out of us. If that happens, we need to get it out and not let it fester inside us. I've been afraid a few times. The most recent was a fire in a church that we were called for mutual aid on. Myself and another one of my firefighters were told to search the 3rd floor of this building for fire extension. The smoke was so thick up there you couldn't see your hand unless it was directly on your mask. We didn't have a hoseline. My biggest fear was fire comming up the stairway and us being trapped up there.
Kudos for posting this. I'm sure it wasn't all that easy. Fear seems to be something firefighters don't talk about much... we're heroes, we're tough, all that. But, I bet we're also all afraid at some time or another. If that fear isn't properly faced, it can gnaw away at our insides until it destroys whatever courage we had.
I find my greatest courage and strength comes from others. I share my fears with someone and they can encourage me and help me through those tough moments. I would never have made it as a firefighter without the support of some fellow firefighters.
Firefighting was not in my life plan, it was not a dream I had. I joined a volunteer dept. on a whim... I almost quit my first week of real training. The air mask made me claustrophobic, I could barely keep myself from hyperventilating, I wasn't strong enough or fast enough... I about ripped the mask off and quit without finishing the drill. But pride drove me on. Afterwards, I felt pathetic and weak, but I locked my fear away, afraid of ridicule from the guys if they saw how scared I really was.
The night I passed my first level of training, finished the drill in the required amount of time with no major mistakes... I think I passed because my crew leader that night was so positive and encouraging, that it rubbed off. For the first time, I thought I could actually make it. A year and a half later, I'm still a firefighter.
Still scares me though. I still hate the air masks. I have to walk on the treadmill on air regularly to keep myself accustomed. Hearing about mistakes or miscommunications that lead to FFT deaths, make me nervous... but this is something I feel called to do, so I keep responding.
It's just nice actually hear someone else say that the fear hits them, too, so thanks for posting.