Chris joined me via phone from his home in Utah. His story is impactful and at times disturbing. Please exercise caution if themes of death, suicide, and violence are triggers for you.
Chris Monroe === Stack: Today we're sitting down with Chris Monroe, he's out of Utah. He claims to be just a backseat firefighter, which we all know is not just a backseat firefighter. That's probably the most important position in the fire service. I'm going to let him tell a little bit of his story, his family history, and some of his professional history. And then we'll get into the story of why he's on the show today and where he's been and where he's going from here. So welcome to the show, Chris. Chris: Thanks for having me, man. Appreciate it. So yeah I'm coming up on my 39th birthday. Just kind, kinda crazy to think about, but so it kinda got into this whole thing. I started out I enlisted in the army reserve when I was. 16 or the national guard when I was 16, decided I didn't want to be a comms guy. So I switched over when I turned 17 into the reserves. So I could be a combat engineer, graduated high school, went right off to basic training. It was a week away from graduating from my job school and the basic training and broke my back, jumping up a back of a deuce and a half. And I kept trying to push it on and they said, sorry, pal, you're on your own. See you later. And so that was really hard for me because I pretty much had, every kid at that time, at that age is oh man, I got my life figured out, I know what I'm doing. I'm going to do the army. Then I'm going to be a cop and this and that and whatever, like he has it all planned out in my whole life to shatter before my eyes, when they gave me that DD214 discharge paper. So I came home the doctors in the army were like, oh yeah, you're getting surgery done deal. Cause I had a spiral fracture L4 L5. Come home. Doctor's no, I think we can do some PT and get you rehabbed. And I did that for about a year and I was good to go. In that time I was stupid. 18, 19 year old kid got involved in a fight so that blew, my chances with corrections at the time I had tested for some places and they said, yeah, you got to get that taken care of. So I just went to being a mechanic because I've always loved cars, but after that, I didn't dig it. So I went into EMS and just fell into my lap. Actually. I was going to school and got my EMT basic. And then from there wanted to to get a job with the ambulance service that was here and they weren't hiring at the time. There's a bunch of political nonsense going on. I got a job with the security guard. Company and they needed EMTs as well. And so I was working for discover card financial services at the time, and I knew it was in an interesting place to work as a security guard in an EMT to try to do that dual role. Cause we had no medical control or anything. It was like, Hey y'all we know that you guys are in teasing. You guys can do things. So go ahead and do, and I ran into some situations where I felt like I needed that guidance or somebody to protect me. So I ended up quitting that job because I just felt vulnerable. And then I went on to EMT, intermediate which no longer exists apparently. But it was good. I excelled in there and then got a job as a ski patroller and did that for five or six years. And then my wife and I felt like we needed a change. So we moved to Virginia and I got a job out in Richmond with and I was like, I was in for a real rude awakening when I got there. I didn't realize how ugly the world was outside this little bubble that I was living in. I feel like Utah's is fairly sheltered up until the last few years, things have gone crazy now, but at the time I felt sheltered and I get there and they're talking about the statistics about the crime rates and murder rates. And while I'm going through my preception and I stopped the instruct and said, hold on. Okay. I was like, I come from a place where we maybe have eight shootings a year. Most of those are from the cops were bad guys. And now you're talking, we're looking at well over a hundred a year, like this is insane. And they all just chuckled and laughed. . They cut me loose with my preceptor and she ended up becoming my partner. And we saw some crazy shit. And I still talk to her to this day. We've been friends since 2010 just working through our own garbage and stuff. But so yeah, I did that and then don't do business with family. So that's why I ended up moving back to Utah and got a job back with the ski patrol. Boss called me up in the middle of all that family drama and said, Hey, man, I really want you to come back. I'll pay you more and make you a supervisor if you come back. And I was like, cool, I'll be there two weeks. So I did that and then realized that I wasn't the route I wanted to go anymore. I wanted to continue with the, the end of the fire service and do more EMS. And so I went to fire academy and got my degree. Yeah. And I had to recertify and intermediate, but they didn't do that anymore. They just swapped over to the advanced, . And a lot of things that I learned in Richmond, I've tried to bring back here and was met with a lot of resistance. I didn't realize how behind we were at the time with our EMS compared to what I experienced out in Richmond. So I was, and that was a lot of resistance. But after everything was said and done graduated college with my associate's degree, not that big of a deal. I've, I fought that tooth and nail because I didn't believe that I needed a piece of paper to say that I could do a job, but I landed, the first place I applied for here I got it. And I've been with the department now for little over nine years now, total I have about eight and a half years. And so here I am with all the things that I carry. Yeah. And you have that much time in, and from a variety of places, you're going to carry quite a bit. Yeah. And we're going to get into some of that Stack: let's talk about Richmond. Some, I know, I'm from just north of Richmond, so I'm aware of what the city is. I haven't run in Richomnd, so I don't know that intricity is of the city. So maybe describe some of that. What was the job like there? What was the let's start with? What was the shift? What was what was expected of you? New Speaker: Yeah. We had a mandatory 16 hours of overtime was every, I can't remember if it was every week or every two weeks was a total of 16 hours. It's been awhile since that, but I was working initially. I was working 12 in the afternoon to midnight. Chris: I actually really enjoyed that schedule because I was getting there at lunchtime get some of that busy stuff that happens around lunch. And then when the people are going home and then a little bit of that nighttime stuff didn't realize like how little actually happens at night. I thought all the bad stuff happens at night, but actually it seems like it more happens during the day. So I did that shift while I was going through preception. They cut me loose with a paramedic who was wanting to be like a pediatric surgeon and this guy was dialed. I, this guy was so smart and was just an incredible teacher, continue to learn from him and try to just, be ready for every step. And then I only got to work with him for a short while before they decided to shake things up and say, Hey, we all were going to change the shifts up and stuff, and you can really bid the shifts and. With a new partner. So I actually went back with my old preceptor. And she was a fairly new medic. I think she was six months, seven months as a medic, but she was super smart too. Just incredible. Holly, I'll never, I'll always, she's one of my good friends and so we get working together and I wanted to keep doing that shift and she's yeah, it just doesn't work good with my kids, and so her and I kinda didn't work together for a little bit. So I ended up working 1800 to zero six for a handful of months. And I think that was really the opening experience for me when all the brain damage sustained from this job happened. It was a race to beat the , the sun coming up now to get home before the son got home got up. So I could finally, so I could sleep. So I did that. I would do four tens, generally or four twelves. And yeah, it was four twelves to finally get back with my preceptor. And it was this a big city for me. Salt lake city is it's a small, compared to what I had experienced. I grew up in Washington state in the little farm town and moved here and I thought, oh man, salt lake city that is as living it. And then I moved to there and there was a holy crap is even bigger. And then there's such a diverse culture, that I really hadn't. And when I lived in the farming community of Washington I was a minority. We had a lot of migrant workers and then coming to Utah, we didn't really have a lot of minorities at all. Little pockets of refugees and stuff like that, but it wasn't, there really wasn't an exposure to that. And so moving to Richmond was really eyeopening to see these different cultures and just how people interact with each other differently. Utah is very, I want to say sheltered in a sense, it's, we live in this bubble and the predominant religion out here, it's not my cup of tea. And moving out there was very different because you had the, the Southern Baptist and the born again, Christians and, the occasional Mormon too, which was crazy. Yeah, so that was it. And then, and the projects they exist. I didn't, I just thought that was made up, but they really exist. Yeah. They're definitely not made up. No, and that was, for me, that was so hard to wrap my mind around. Lived in these places. I don't know. Some may have lived there by choice. Some, it was like they had to live there. There was no other options for them, I'm going to, and it just, it was hard. And especially seeing like the kids, I was like, man this is what you get. You get four walls that are made of cinder blocks. Like it is borderline on living in a prison in a sense. And so that was hard for me to at sometimes I would lose my empathy and I just, I was like an asshole know and just be like you made that choice. And then there's other days where it's these people are doing the best. They can there's nothing, they can't, this is what they're given right now. And they're, you can tell, they're trying to get out of here, but sometimes they can't, you're stuck the vicious cycle, but yeah, that was hard for me. A lot of all the trauma, a lot of times. And then just really, all the, just the call volume, it was intense compared to what I had experienced as a ski patroller, I was either handing out band-aids or putting people on backboards, but it was most of the trauma that I experienced at a ski patroller was like a broken arm, a broken legs, it's not a big deal. Stack: So you mentioned you slid the sentence in there when you started talking about Richmond that you think that was where the damage started. Yeah. So is there anything that jumps out at you? Is there, was there was it specific or was it just general? Was it just the slow onslaught? Chris: I wasn't a slow onslaught that's for sure. My, my second call ever, it was going through training with Richmond was we got dispatched for a fall and that was it. We had no idea we'd get there. And, as in this, in-between like a garden apartment. And we get there and like w where's the call, like who, who called nine 11? And people are just looking at us like we don't want to talk. And somebody comes over and say, Hey, there's somebody laying on the ground over here. And it's this, early twenties, female that had fallen off of the balcony of the apartment. The second story balcony of her apartment, where she was moving her furniture, she had moved in. And she, from what bystanders said, she lost her footing and she fell. And that was huge for me because she was unconscious. She was posturing. And, in route to the hospital, my partner's telling me I gotta get an OPA. And I gotta get some airway stuff going on here. And while I'm trying to, she so clenched and I'm watching her eyeball and it's just growing and growing. And I finally look up and I'm like, Hey, her eye is growing. And then all of a sudden it exploded in that. And I, from that moment on I and my partner looked up at him, he's oh, and pardon my French. But he goes, fuck, that's gross. And I just was like, holy shit, what did I just get into? And so I just think and it just continued traumas like that full arrests were, people coming out of the woodwork are in your business. Now I'm just like critiquing you nonstop. And you're trying to do your best and you're following the algorithms and you're following protocols to a T and these people don't know it, but they're there on you? Like, why aren't you doing this? Why aren't you going faster? And it's man, it was just that continual beat down. Stack: So you mean you're talking, supervisors are continually on. Chris: The supervisor, but it was the public, you show up for the calls. And I was like, where did all these people come from? Sometimes there's 50 people are showing up and they're all out only around you yelling at you and it's they want you there, but they hate you at the same time. It's you're supposed to be here because you're an ambulance drivers, which call them, so get them. But we hate you because you're not doing it. And we think you're cops are associated with cops. And this is like this, I don't know it was this weird hatred. And it just never sat well with me. But I just, I remember everything coming to a head when I was working that that 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM shift that just I was taking a patient to a hospital and it was a. Rainy evening. And I just remember driving on this road to the hospital and looking over in the mud puddle on the side of these two Mallard ducks at Drake and a hen. And I was just like, cool. That's cool seeing them hanging out there right on, they're doing their thing. And then we were coming back to a new post and taking that same road, go by the puddle. And I see one of the ducks just splattered all over the asphalt and see the other, one's still over there in a puddle. And that just, I literally started crying. I didn't even know why, because, like I said I hunt ducks, it just, it tore me up. I think that's not normal. Like why is this upsetting me? Like I, and so then my sleep started getting super messed up. I was lucky to get three hours of sleep when I'd get home and I would, and then it got to a point to where my wife would come in. And say that she was leaving for work. And I don't remember any of this, but she told me the handful of times that she would come in and touch my shoulder and lean in to give me a kiss to say goodbye. And I just start swinging and so i thought man, I gotta figure something out. So I went to my shift captain and talked to him. He was like, I think you need to go see the EAP and I had no idea what that was. So I went and saw him go and find out it's a counselor. And I was telling the guy was, everything has happened in the last year and a half. And he just looks at me and he's you need sleep, but I think you need to move back to Utah. And I kinda took me for a surprise because I was committed to being in Virginia and he's nah, I think you, you need to go back. So I ended up doing that. If, a few months later, I end up moving back to Utah, but no, my sleep got better and the demons more or less disappeared, once I was able to get some sleep and left that environment. Stack: Yeah. Sleep is a powerful medication. Put it that way. It's the one thing that we quite often lack in the fire service or EMS or in a hospital setting, to be honest with you. And it's one of the most important things we can have and if we don't get the proper sleep, then it affects everything. Chris: Yeah. It does everything. Yeah. So the demons came back at a weird time though. When I was, I went back to ski patrol, it was in the middle of the day. I had just got done eating my lunch and I was taking just like a little quick power nap and I just There was a call that I had in Richmond. It happened to be one of the girls that worked there, she was in like she was like a logistics. She'd get our ambulances all ready to go and make sure that we were good to go. As soon as we showed up on shift, if you hop in and go, and she had all that ready for me. But it was our grandma and we didn't know going there. And then it was like just the worst situation ever. Like they just gave him this as these new stretchers to try out these new electronic stretchers. I've never seen one and was like here, go try it out and tell us what you think. And I'm trying to figure out what the funds are and how this thing works. The use of the old striker manual ones. And so we show up for this full arrest and, fire department shows up on it too. We get in there and we're going to work doing our thing. Like I placed the king airway and I get her on the autopulse. My partner's getting the IV or the IO and getting the meds on board and things are happening, right? This is going well, but she's got this pacemaker that started to throw us for a loop a little bit because we're seeing that we're seeing the pacemaker working, but we're also looking at her rhythm and we're like, she's in toursades, like shit. So we had this hesitation and then my partner was like, we got a shocker. So we shocked her. And I've never seen this happen before, but after we shocked her pacemaker just stopped working. I was like, shit. Okay. And then she just went asystoly after that. And we were like, crap, we gotta get going. And this is one of those calls where everybody in the world has shows up out of nowhere. And they're all yelling as we got family yelling at us and I got on the radio and I was like, Hey, we need. I got usually a supervisor would show up on a full arrest, to make sure that as just to ensure that everybody was doing what they needed to doing and everything was going smooth. So I call for a supervisor like sorry not gonna make it. You guys got to handle this by yourself. So I asked the FDS like, Hey, do you guys mind trying to do some crowd control or can you get ahold of a PD? And see if they'll show up in PD is Nope, sorry, we're busy. And so we're like, shit. All right. So as we were walking out I feel so bad. Like we tried everything we could to try to keep this lady covered up the best we could while we're running out to the ambulance with her on the stretcher, the sheet blows off and she's got the autopulse going on. And if you've ever seen that, it's not a pretty sight. It's a fairly violent thing. And literally I, as we're going out, I see that I look over and all these people are going, oh Lord. Oh Lord. Oh my. And just go crazy. And this lady passes out when she sees her. And I'm like mother fucker and I can't get the stupid gurney to retract to get her into the ambulance. And the fire department is trying to help me figure it out. And they're like, what the fuck is wrong with this thing? It was, it probably was only like 15 seconds, but it felt like 20 minutes. And then to get her in, we'll finally get her in and we get to the hospital and we're met by this logistics girl and after we dropped the patient off and no doctor confirmed that she was, she had died and we walk out and me and my partner. We were already a little disheveled and a little shook and from that, and then she comes up and she's Hey, y'all just take a patient in for a full arrest. Yeah. She's is this her name? And I kinda, I was likeman this is HIPAA. I don't know if I should go into it. She's if it was her, this is my grandma. And I'm like, fuck. And my partner, she steps in and she's yeah, we just took her in. And she sees, and she asks if she made it my partner, she says no, she, she didn't make it. We tried everything we could, but she didn't make it. And just seeing her expressions and just go from even like the slightest glimmer of hope that maybe we saved her grandma to just utter despair and to see her drop to the floor, it was almost too much for me to handle. And I got mad at her. I didn't say anything to her, but I was mad. Like I didn't talk to her for awhile. Cause I was like, how dare you do that to us? I just, I, she didn't know. I don't know, but I felt like she was putting us on the spot and it was almost like she was the feelings I got was that she was accusing us for her death. But so that, that lady to this day, no, she haunts me and her grandma. She haunts me. She comes back in my dreams and she's, she just it's like she starts out at a distance and I can see her and she's pissed and she's screaming at me. She gets closer and closer. Then all of a sudden she just rapidly just closes the gap to where she's in my face and she's screaming at me. And she just looks like the most scariest person. And sounds like the most scary person you could have ever met or seen in your life. So that nightmare popped up in my head when I was at the ski patrol job. When I was trying to take that break and I just jumped out of my seat and I was in tears and sweating and just panicked. And I was like, holy shit. It's been like six months, seven months since I've done anything like this and have this experience. And it just happened in the middle of day. Usually it's at night, I've never had to happen in the middle day. And everybody all my guys with me and stuff, they're all just looking at me like, what is wrong with you? They were all ski patrollers, and they were at this place and he all, again, just broken arms and stuff. And none of them had ever really experienced anything like that. None of this. And they just looked at me like, dude, you are, you're a messed up. And so it took me a minute to regroup and and then she just kept coming. Every night she just nailed it. She continued. And then I think I just got so overwhelmed with school and work that I don't know, maybe I was able to bottle all that stuff up and push it down way deep. Cause I didn't have. Those nightmares for two years as I was going through school two and a half years. But then as soon as things calm down, like my mind was able to start wandering again. She came up and then this old timer who he was the nicest old man ever. And I just, I don't know why. Cause he was alive and kicking and doing well when we dropped him off. But I guess he coded like 10 minutes after we dropped them off at the hospital. I just always see his face and he'd always tells me Chris it's okay. But I always, it just makes me so sad because of this, how positive that experience was with him. And he's he always just told me, Chris is okay. It's okay. it'll eat at me. Stack: So when you say when the ski patrol, what year was the return to the ski patrol? Again, just for clarification, Chris: 2011. Yeah. It was about 2011 where like when I went back and time, Stack: This incident where it happened during the day there, w what year was that? Chris: Man, it was probably like maybe 2010. It could've even been 2011, like summertime of 2000. Yeah, it was summertime of 2011. Okay. At the end of summer, because I came back in like June or July and I just remember. Yeah, that's all, it wasn't very long. It only been a few months then I came back and it just in the middle of nowhere, shit hit me. Stack: Okay. And so did you did you see therapist at that time? Chris: No. No, I didn't at all. I just said, this is part of the job, I took that old mentality of this is gonna, this is what happens, just deal with it. And I was. In my late twenties at that time, I'm slowly winding down from being that 20 year old, that party hard and drinking and stuff, but got turned on to whiskey at that time. And so I started drinking a little more whiskey than I usually did. I was probably like three to four glasses at night. And just I felt normal to me though, like that was just kinda like what we did. I was ski patrollers too. Like after our shifts, we'd have a couple of beers or whatever, and just shoot the shit for a little bit and talk about the events of the day and what we got to do for the next day. And so it just was normalized. And then when I got the real gig, the fire job, my real job realized that wasn't necessarily, I don't know. I started talking to the guys and then starting to think about it. I was like, man, we're all alcoholics. Like at least half of us are because the other half are Mormon, but I was like, and I was like, this ain't right. But I still kept doing it, kept drinking, but I really tried to live with myself. I am, I found going to the gym and working out and that kind of took that, that drink away a little bit, cause I was like, oh man, I feel like shit. When I work out when after I drink. So I kinda stopped drinking a little bit. But then my God, it was it was a really shitty first year there for me. I was, it was Christmas time. The first I had a plane, my very first fire was a helicopter crash into a building and killed two people. And it was just a total cluster. Cause we were still understaffed at the time we were in a two people on an engine, the two people, on the ambulance. And then sometimes we were jumped staffing from ambulance to the engine or an engine or vice versa, like a captain, an engineer would jumping down there, get on to on the ambo to go run a call. And so we show up and I got these two guys they're just hanging in there. The burning up they're there, they're unconscious. One of them was clearly dead and another one alive I'm spraying the fire. Like I look at them and I'm looking at them and I'm like, dude, I think this guy's alive. And then he makes like this very purposeful movement with his arm. And I'm sure it was this nerve looking back at it now, but I'm like, shit. So I get on the radio and I'm the only one up there because my partner runs out of air within five minutes of the operation and they just leave. To know what I know now. I was like, I should have left too, but I just stayed. And so they come running up and they cut them out of a seatbelt and he just drops to the floor and they start working. And then they're like, no he's passed. Like every bone in his body is broken and everything. So that doing the body recovery on that later for the ME, for the second guy that kind of was, that was not cool. But then the next shift if anybody knows the Hills along the Wasatch front here, now people take their UTVs and Jeeps and stuff, and they just cruise around all over and it was a snowy day and we get this call. It was way out of my area. And so I can dispatch it to the side of this mountain, where a jeep has rolled over. And I've got multiple echo patients and childrenejected. And I've got a battalion chief. Who's not quite sure what to think. I've got paramedics jumping on saying we need this and that and on the radio. And I'm just like, man, I don't want to have to do like people. I'm like, I got people flagging me down to go up the trail a little bit. I got people yelling at me to stage in a parking lot. And I'm so finally I just look at my partner and I was like, fuck it. We're going up there. So we motor up and we get there and there's just carnage. See this Jeep rolled onto his top, just mangled . I see people up on the side of a hill working a body that's pinned against a tree. And I'm getting flagged to go help these kids. And as I'm walking to get the kids to walk past the dad and I just, I, my tunnel vision set in so bad. And I'm glad I did because I just remember stepping into this there's river of blood coming out of the dad. I guess he didn't have the tunnel vision. And he saw that the dads head just was popped like a watermelon and a just all that blood. I was like, oh God damn it. I get to the kids and they're banged up pretty bad. They've got, know, all their injuries, real broken pelvis and stuff like that. And we finally get him down to the mountain and the light, this lifeline them to primary children's hospital. And the little boy he's 10 years old and he just keeps asking me, where's my mom and dad where's my dad. And I just, I felt like shit because I didn't want to lie to the kid. Like I, but I also didn't want him to know that he just lost both of his parents just before Christmas. And I just, I, so I just told the little kid, I was like, man, I'm not sure where we're trying to get them off. You're trying to get them down here, getting them down to the, in an ambulance to buddy. Okay. And so his sister and him get life-flighted and then they get the shitty news. And I guess follow up. And I have decided at this point in my career, I don't ever want follow up again. I don't care when I drop a patient off. I don't want to know what happens anymore, but they ended up moving to Washington and living with some sort of relative or whatever. But, and then the next week I have a kid jumped in front of a fucking train and the battalion chief at the time, didn't understand the value of not, obviously it's going to be an obvious fatal. There's no need to go in and check that shit out, but he made us go walk the tracks to confirm it. And there's just body parts everywhere. And that was a shitty three weeks and yeah, Stack: that's that's not just the, that's a very shitty three weeks. You can fill up a career with just those three weeks. Chris: Yeah. And so a short time after that, we do this shift bid and I get a new partner and a new captain things settle a little bit. And I kinda, I went through a lot of partners for the next year. I think I went through three partners. One, two of them quit when other places one went to another shift to another crew. Finally we do another. A bid then I get to work with, this is medic who I've gone through our little academy with, it was just, and I, him and I just instantly connected. And and then I get a new engineer and I still have my old captain and we just, everybody just meshed, it was awesome, but my new partner, he, him and I together were not a good combination. As far as the calls that came our way. Like we worked well and we did a hell of a bang up job, but man, we just turned it in massive black clouds. Now in the calls, we've gone on together. We're to the point where he's left. Now he is too much. And at sometimes I, I look at him and I tell him, I was like, man, I wish I could do what you did, where you were able to just cut ties and say, I can't do it enough. And he's why can't you? I says one financially, I couldn't afford to do that. As like you set yourself up, right? Like you literally don't have any debt. Your house is paid off. Everything that you have, that you all have. You have you own it. And I was like I'm stuck and you don't have to be a firefighter anymore. I was like, I do. I was like, it's in my blood dude. I was like I gotta do this. Like I can't, I worked too hard to get to where I'm at too. But yeah, I started seeing a therapist about three years ago, four years ago. Stack: This is somebody you knew before where you introduced them. Chris: No I was introduced to him. And so if you want, I can get into like how that all happened because, okay. So got went on lot on a lot of bad traumas, a lot. Most of them was like, you were drunk, whatever you wrecked your car, not a big deal, but it was the kids man those calls started to catch up to me and I started seeing more hangings and I don't know for me. And a lot of the guys I work with hanging. These are like the worst call of the goal. Just, they just, they create the shit out of me. And I dunno, like every time I go on a hanging, I just get sick to my stomach. I can't handle this. And I just started going on more those for whatever reason. And they're all like my age or where there, where the kids, they're teenagers and stuff. Stack: I see every hanging i've been to, I still see it. So I have to agree with you if I never see another hanging in, in whatever's left of this career of mine, if I never see another hanging it's perfectly. fine, Chris: I, yeah, I'm with you. And then just hearing the families cries, like you're not going to get those sounds out of your head. You just can't hear a mother cry over her or son or daughter killing themselves as so primal. It just, it's almost too much for you to handle while you're on the call. Like you have to do everything you can to block that shit out. So things started getting really dark in my mind. I'm not sleeping at all. Like I'm going days without sleeping. And then I get to the point where my body is so exhausted that I just crash a while. But even when that happens, I still have all these, the dark images. And these sounds running through my head while I'm sleeping and so. Getting rested, I might sleep for 12 hours, but it's not a rested 12 hours. And so I'm like, shit. All right. So we reached out to the EAP and I feel like I gave them PTSD just by telling them some of my stories and I have one say, I can't help you. And I was like, yeah, no shit. The EAP said that. Yeah. Stack: Okay. And that's another theme that, I can have my own, I would, I feel like whoever we talk to, if they're not ready for it, I completely agree with you. It's almost, if you give them PTSD from just relaying what you've been through. Chris: Yeah. So they try to refer me to another person and this person was more or less just as qualified as they were not really qualified to handle first responders and military. And hospital staff deal with I, they, more or less tried to get me atta boys or pat on my back saying, you did your job is I got no shit. I know I did my job. You just came in on, see what and you can on hear what you've heard. Like it's just it's there. And they, my mind doesn't agree with those images. I'm sorry. So I just decided to find screw it. I'm just gonna try to handle this on my own and started drinking heavy again and it kinda, it scared me. So I stopped. I just, I don't know why, but I stopped. I just I can't drink, I stopped, but it didn't make anything better. Everything was still stuck. Still had the thoughts of just utter darkness in my. And we had just started our own union here. We just started enjoying the IFF and I'm to this point where I don't sleep. I'm just sitting on the floor just scared days, fall asleep. And so I finally I call the the center of excellence is late at night and I'm just like, not like I'm just grasping at straws at this point. And I call them and I'm like nobody answers. And I'm like, motherfucker. I thought they were supposed to be there 24 7. But at the time I think they were brand new. Like just opening. So I don't know what was going on. So I left a message and I never heard back from anybody. I like, I was like, okay, they'll call me the morning that I could make it til morning. And I just kept telling myself, I just got to make it to the next day. gotta make it in the morning to make it till my whatever, and nobody ever called. And so I reached out to. Our peer support after a while. It got, they got to a point where really hate saying this shit out loud. It feels like such a coward for doing it. I just, I got to a point where it at night I couldn't sleep. I got, I couldn't handle it anymore. I I just hold my gun it loaded. And I but, I couldn't never pull the fucking trigger. I don't know why I couldnt do it yeah, I just got, as I either am too stubborn to do it, or I'm too much of a coward, but I hate to say that. So anyways, I reach out to our peer support guy and his hey man and things are dark right now. And I need some help and he kinda dug a little bit into what was going on. He was like, Hey, he's I am not the one to, I'm not the one to help you, but I can get you in contact with somebody that can and all that. Cool. So I call this therapist and he says man, he's oh, I want to help you. And he's but I can't get you in until three months from now. And that feeling was just so gut-wrenching to be told that I. I'm ready to kill myself. And I got to wait three more months and it was the longest hardest three months of my life. I feel like I'm surprised I'm married. I'm surprised that no, my kid want that. He's only six, almost seven now, but like he wanted to have anything to do with me because I just turned into this shell of a human meaning. There was no soul, I was an asshole and just dark, just fucking dark. But I made it, I made it about three months. I don't know how I did it, but I did it. I made it. And that first session was so hard. Like it was literally like just opening every fucking wound and just letting. You just bleed more and just exposing it and like just left feeling so raw and so confused for three days. And I went back and I saw him six days after that. And I was like I was doing every about six or seven days. I would go back to see him. I did that for a handful of months and things started to feel better and I started getting better, but I remember early on one of the sessions, he just said, I just want you to sit here one minute and just listen. I don't want you to try to not think if he can just just empty your mind and just listen, just close your eyes and just listen. I'm not going to talk and just want you to listen. And I just, at first, like I could hear like his little sound machine that he had played. I picked up on that and I could pick up on this little water. Feature thing that was bubbling. I picked up on that and I was like, oh, those are great, whatever. And then it was just this clock that just kept ticking and it just kept ticking and kept ticking. I'm just getting so angry. Finally, after that minute, he's Hey, open your eyes. And he goes, what's wrong? And I said, I'm going to break your fucking clock. And he looks at, and he's what do you mean? I says, I can't take that. I can't take that sound. That ticking. And I was like, it's too much for me. He was like, why is it too much? And I just sit there and sit in there. And I just started to reel and I'm like, it just start rambling as is because everything's fucking timed. Fucking everything I do is timed. Life is. The minute you wake up, it's time for your time to how long can you sleep? How much sleep do you get to get, your timed on a call. Like you gotta get out the door in X amount of time. You got to get to the, call X amount of time. You gotta be on scene for X amount of time until the hospital extra on the time. It's I can't fucking take time. And I felt so good after that, I realized I was like, holy shit. I was like, it's time. And he's and then he tells me, he's look, I don't give a shit about time. If I'm going to be late, I'm going be fucking late, whatever they can go on without me and I don't care. And I'm like, I can't be like that. And he's to a degree, you can, you don't when you're off don't set these time constraints for yourself. Don't like, just be off. And I was like, I can't, as it gets never how I've been. I've always been this way. But it was this realization that this hatred of time that I had, I, I like it was able to. Trigger that realized what one of my triggers anyways, I should say, I like, okay, cool. Like I can handle this. And then we went out in this little courtyard area where I see the therapist, it's got this pond and a little Creek and waterfalls and it's got fish and ducks and all this shit. And he had me go out there after our session and we were just walking and just, just kinda just doing like a walk and talk therapy session. I thought it was weird at first, but it just brought me so much peace to be around that type of stuff. And I've always gone to the woods or gone out to the marsh or to the river or wherever in a nature. And that's where I find my peace because I don't have any demands. There's no sounds. The natural sounds of the world, no cars, no people. And I can have these conversations and nobody's going to tell me that wrong, to feel this way. Nobody's going to tell me how I should feel or how I should have ran that call or anything. It's just me and the fucking squirrels or whatever out there. And so he picked up on this and he's I think you need to spend more time fishing or whatever. Like you need to get out in nature more. He's I don't think a park is it. And I was like, fuck, no, I hate parks because there's people everywhere and don't trust people now I don't. And I can't just be me. And I'm always on edge. I'm looking to see if somebody's gonna do something or someone's going to get hurt or whatever. I couldn't let my job go. And so I started, I told him, I was like, man, this is crazy. And I tell him my life as was super crazy, but. My guy says, I need to try to spend more time fishing and she chuckled. And she was like, I think he's right. And so we figured out a way to make it so I could go fishing in the morning, go fishing in the afternoon while her and my son were at school and work and stuff like that. And at first it was like, for me, I was like, I gotta go catch a fish. I gotta do this. It was turning like into this job, this objective I had to do. And a couple of times after it just became like so therapeutic, I didn't give a shit. If I caught a fish, I just, the, I just anchor my boat back in a Cove or something like that. And just hanging out, just listen to the water, bounce against my boat, splashed against the banks or whatever, and watch the birds. And now if I go out, it's just, if I catch a fish, that's just the icing on the cake. It's just this peaceful. But all this stuff was good. It was going great. Really got ahold of my demons. Everything was good. And then I go to a a refinery school in Louisiana and me and one of the guys I work with and we're out with a couple of the refinery guys and we'd go to this bar and the waitress asks like what we do. And we're all like we're were firefighters, and she goes, oh, you all see some shit don't you? And that just, that was a trigger for me. And that sent me into a tailspin. It was almost like I was going back to before I met my therapist before I called the the center of excellence. And so I go to the bathroom and I'm just trying to regroup. And I'm just in there just fuck. I just keep saying that over and over it. I've never been to a bar where there was a dude that sits in the restroom and like cans, you go paper, towel and shit. So I'm just sitting there. I was like, are you, why is this guy in here? So I finally was like, look, dude, nothing against you, but you can't be in here right now. And he's sorry, it's my job. And I says, I can't have you in here right now. And he's sir, it's my job. You got to deal with what you got to deal with in here. And I'm like, motherfucker. So I'm just trying to take these deep breaths, trying to be like, okay. Cause when she said that, all I could see was every fucking dead kid I'd ever been on. Every kid just fucking every kid and one mom her screams. I'll never forget. I'll never forget it. Her... her screams or we're literally what horror movies or I'm sorry. Stack: No. Need to apologize. I'm just giving you some space there, man. Chris: This is really hard. He's Stack: no, it's yeah, it has to be hard. It's impactful stuff man, impactful stuff. Chris: So I I finally feel like I get my shit together, the least enough, so I can go back out with the guys and started just pounding beers and shots. Just like I am. I'm my buddy that I went. He's being, you okay. And I just looked at him and I says, Nope, give me another one. And he's you sure that's a good idea. And they shut the fuck up and give me another one. And so I did buy an around a shot for everybody to try to change the subject. And I just kept just fucking drank like a fish. I hadn't drank that hard in a long time. And that was when I really realized like how bad, like drinking for me and dealing with these mental health issues that I got going on. They don't mix. And I just, it was, it brought everything back to the surface and it just, it was ugly that night was so so ugly. I didn't sleep at all. I thought for sure to at least pass out from how much alcohol I drink, but the shit in my head wouldn't let me. And so I sent a message to my therapist at four o'clock in the morning. It was, Hey, I'm in Louisiana. This is what happened when I get home. Can I see you? He's he shoots me a text back at eight o'clock that morning. It's yep. I can see you when you get back, but be careful with the booze. And I kinda, I took that little nugget that he gave me with the alcohol and I was like, all I was like, I'm going to limit myself to two drinks a night for the rest of the week. And I was there for four more days and I did good. I stuck to my word. I don't know why I did it, but I did it for myself and I get back and talk to him and tell him everything is going on and stuff. And I was like why would that be a trigger for me? Why, when somebody asks that isn't because they want to hear your stories. And I was like but I don't want to give them my stories. No, nobody needs to know this shit. And he's but they're using you to do the work through whatever shit they're dealing with. Like you're their therapist. Like they've probably seen something that wasn't, it was unsettling and they want to hear something more unsettling to make themselves feel better. And I was like, I don't know. And he's I don't know. Maybe just grasping at straws too, but he's that's generally what happens? Why the fuck do people want to know that shit? And he's yeah. There's, he's we're, we are a weird species where we want to know and see the ugly and then realize after we've done it, that I was a mistake. No, but he's but plus people want to view you as ahero I was like, but I'm far from a fucking hero. And he's in their eyes, you are. And they want to know what you do to make sure that you are a hero in their eyes. I was like that was a really fucked up thinking, because look, I'm no, no better than anybody else. The only thing is different is that I might just be crazy enough or dumb enough to do what I do. We all, every job that everybody has is no different than needs. It's all important. And he's you he's I think your trigger was alcohol. And so I've listened to that. And I think he's flown on whenever I start to get a little crazy with alcohol things get ugly. So I realized that was a trigger for me. So I pretty much just stopped drinking. I might have a drink if that, you know what, if i'm in like a social gathering. It's never by myself. Or anything like that or after work, it's just like hanging out with my family and we're just, just doing our thing and I might have a beer, like I've pretty much cut off all whiskey, all hard liquors. So that was things were going great. And then start seeing some, really some more fucked up calls like everybody does. And then they go on this fucking kid. Who's 11 years old and he hangs himself with a shirt from the fucking bunk bed and we get there and I, as I go. Look up into the doorway to enter the home. There's little brother. He's just see this look on his face of this absolute like shock and terror. And he just hear him and he's just, he's flocking in circles in the living room of this townhome just go no. When I'm like, Hey buddy, what's going on? And he's and he just points. And he goes, he's down there. He's down there. I did everything I could. And he just keeps saying, I no. And I'm just looking at this kid and I'm eat me up. I go downstairs and his little brother had cut his brother down with a knife, kitchen, not have kitchen knife. And. We get to the shirt off of his brother's neck and we strip and we're going to work and my partner work him and I are we're working and the medic units show up and we're all doing our thing and it's crowded and cramped. And we finally, we get pulses back. I'm like, okay, cool. So we were boogeying to the hospital and there's a little, and I'm on the truck at the time. So I don't have to go to the hospital and ride in the back of that ambulance. And so I'm just cleaning things up after they all left. And I just, that kid is just distraught and I, I don't know why the mom shows up and she was like, she didn't know what happened, or maybe she's just that much in shock that. She has no expressions. I don't know. And the, his little brother just finally just breaks down and lets it all out. This little brother has, he is so fucking tough, but he got all of his brothers and sisters and he had a Grundle of em, how many there were, but he got them all upstairs and his parents' bedroom to stay away from all that. So they didn't have to see any of that. But he dealt with it. He was a man, like he grew up in that instant in, in seconds and he just finally just, he finally was allowed to be a kid again when he's saw his mom. And he just. Stack: Yeah, that for a child to, to protect siblings like that. And then to take that burden on for themselves. I don't know if it's growing up, but it's it's definitely something that akin to growing up. Chris: Yeah. It's so easy. So brave. It's so courageous to be able to do that I don't know if many, eight to 10 year olds that have that much gumption to be able to do anything like that. And to finally get it, see as innocent, just back. It's so hard to see that. No, I just, I get in the back of the truck, I'm like, my captain has this uncanny ability. To block all this shit. I don't know how he does it. He's been in the fire service now for 32 almost 33 years. And we can talk calls with him. He's man, I don't remember that. And I'm like, how do you not remember that? But he's like, all right he starts talking and I just him and just it was like nothing. And I just, I said cap, I can't go back to this station right now. We need to go for our evening drive. Like some, sometimes we would, we'd get in the truck and we'd just go for a drive and do a little area familiarization stuff and just drive around, checking out shit. And and my engineers yeah, I got you. And so we just go for a little drive for 15, 20 minutes and and the captain, and he just gets on our comms. You good, if we go back. And I'm like, yeah, we can go back. But I just, we all get back and we all just kinda like my captain, he, like I said, I don't know how he does it. He grabs his is cold Pepsi and sits on his chair on a chair that sits out on the apron and enjoys the rest of the evening. He was and I'm sure he may be, he's wanting to his own shit. I don't know. But he never let on to any of us that he had anything like that while my engineer and I, we just kinda go in the kitchen table and sit there, quiet and I just get up. And I was like, that was fucked up. And then I just go to my room. So this is a call that told me that I never wanna, I never want to follow up again because all I knew as a kid was he had. Did I figure he was gonna pass away? Probably if he didn't, he was going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life, but so I'm going up to my mom's and I get there and and this was the same week as my kid's birthday. And I'm getting text messages on the phone while I'm driving. I'm like, motherfucker, blow it up. And my wife checks, Hey is texting you. Yeah. Okay. We'll get up to my mom's and I start reading the texts and I stopped reading them. I go inside and try to be with families. I'm like, I know this is going. I don't want to be doing the same thing. I want to just be my family. I'm just, I'm already a mess. Now. Finally, I was like, okay, it's getting the best of me. So I go back outside and I read the rest of the text messages and how. The guys at work was like, yeah he didn't make it. They pulled the plug today and I just start crying, just fucking balling. And then my stepdad comes out you're good. And I was like, not right now. Just get away. I don't want to be by anybody right now. So he wasn't sure what to do with that. So he was nice enough to give me that space in the lab, but then the wife came out my mom came out first and then I'm like, you gotta go away. I can't do this right now. And my mom and not like bad things. Like she'll do anything and everything to just push that stuff away. Like even if it's happening, she was like, it's everything's okay. And like the fuck it is it's finally, she leaves me alone and my wife comes, out later let's go for a walk. So we're going just walking and I can't even make it to the end of the driveway. And I just start bawling again, just fucking, just like this, like a little baby just balling. And she just holds me and that's all I really wanted, because after that, like it made me feel like it, it still sucks and all that shit still there, but I was able to finally get my shit together after my wife just gave me this big hug and just, she didn't say a fucking word. And I think that's what I needed. At least for that, I just needed somebody to just give me a fucking hug and just listen. I didn't want anybody. Say anything, cause you're not, nobody's going to understand what you're going through. No, the guys that worked through, like you can shoot the shit with them and you can tell what's going on, but, and then anybody outside of this word, they don't fucking get And it's not fair to expect them to get it. Stack: What are you doing today to maintain your mental health? Are you still seeing the same therapist? Chris: I don't see him regularly. I did have to go back and see him again a few months ago. And then the great thing is now that I'm like in the system with him, I can call them up and schedule them in within, usually within 48 hours. And so I can go in and just kinda just dump on them for an hour or so, and, but I had to go see him for a couple of weeks, maybe more than that, because we did this massive shakeup admins, a brilliant idea of shaking everybody up and splitting up all the crews. And that just sent me a I guess it was another one of my triggers. Like it just, it destroyed me. Like I had these, this group of guys that were my brothers, that we'd all experienced, all this stuff together with, and when they moved me to a super slow station with guys that I've never worked with really, or what, it was just it's, it was hard. And so I went and saw him and I'm feeling good now. Finally back into the gym again for the last month or two now. And that was my outlet was working out on the panel because I can use that darkness to, to lift weights and stuff, when it got heavy for me. So it helped push me and it broke, took a break, partly because I had just got done with a meet back in December and I was done for a while. I was like, I'm so spent then just not allowed, allowed life to just get in the way. And those dark demons got in the way. And to a point where I was, I just got, I left it but now the back. And so I've been doing the gym feels better. And then just really trying to be open with with my wife and. And I used my old engineer a lot too. I call him or text him a lot too. And we just talk a lot and that's been really helpful for me to have that as a resource and then my wife has just been super supportive. Like she's an incredible woman and it's been is awesome. Like I know she deals with her own shit and she's got, helping raise two hooligans and working too, but she's still strong enough to help me take care of me. So that's what I've been doing instead. It feels good now, like feeling like I'm on the up and up again. Stack: And that's obviously the good news. That's that's a good, that's a good end right there. That's good. Yeah. That's the good shit. So we'll take a breath there and we'll get onto these last couple of questions I have for you. If you're ready for them. Yeah. And obviously the name of the show is the things we all carry. We all carry shit out of this job. We can't help it. Some of us process it well some of us don't process it at all. But we also carry stuff into the job or we carry stuff every day. And so I always like to ask the guests what's your everyday carry. What's something you have to have on you either at work or not. It doesn't have to be at work, but what's something you find yourself every day with. Chris: Oh, I don't know why, but I have to carry my pocket knife with me. It's with. All the time. The only time I don't have it is when I'm sleeping. If I don't have it, I feel vulnerable. I feel naked almost. It's I don't know. It's not the fancy, it's just a knife that I've had for a really long time. And I don't know. I don't know why, but that's what I have to have a with me, it's like a comfort thing now. Stack: Perfect. That's it? There's no right or wrong answer. So it was just curious. What people carry? Yeah. We all carry our tools. We all carry our memories and our traumas and sometimes we just talk about something that's useful for us, yeah. And finally, normally ask for a book suggestion. Something you've read something you'd like other people to read. And I realize not everybody's into reading and not everybody has the time to sit down and read or the attention span. Cause I know my ADHD takes over and I don't have, I don't have the attention span to read and I love reading. So I don't just go with a book, a movie maybe just a person you want people to be aware of? Chris: Man, probably there's two books. Okay. For me that I, they always kinda, I always think about like the stories and stuff. One of them is Walden from Thereaux. Yes. That's a hard book to read. It really was. But just that connection with nature for me was huge. And then the other one is the jungle by Upton Sinclair. Stack: Upton Sinclair. Yes. Chris: Yes. It was about when the industrial age was underway and stuff, and yes, that story has resonated with me, which is about how, how life just beat this guy up. He lost his wife and kids. He lost everything. And at the end of it, he said, enough's enough basically. And he took control of his life and he didn't let other people dictate his life anymore. And so that was probably one of my favorite books. Stack: I think both of those are great choices and I appreciate it. Hopefully some listeners can reach out, take a look at them and get something from both of them. And so I appreciate you sharing that. Chris: Of course, Stack: Hey, Chris has been one hell of a conversation. I'll tell you, thank you for being so open. Thank you for being vulnerable and yeah, just thank you. That was awesome. Chris: Thank you. Thanks for letting me, let me share some of my stories.