This week I’m joined by Dan for a discussion about the traumas he’s seen and experienced, the effect of the traumas, and his battle to defeat his demons. Originally from New York, Dan moved to Virginia for the job in 2015. He’s been with his present department for seven years. He’s got 16 years total experience. Dan speaks about his family history, his fire service history, some of the calls he’s run and the recovery’s been through because the time we sat down to talk about this, his recovery’s been pretty amazing and he’s still in the middle of a recovery.
Photo on the left is the townhouse fire Dan references. Photo on right is Dan’s father and crew at Ground Zero on 9/11.
Stack: try not to get Mike bleed. That’s the issue. So I don’t even know what any of that’s well, that, that the two mics are hearing each other. Oh, okay. And so it just affects, it kind of affects your recording. All right. So let me go here back to your notes. You good? Yeah, let’s do it. Joining us today on the show is Dan he’s out of Virginia.
He’s been with his present department. He’s been seven years. He’s got 16 years total experience. I’m gonna talk to him some about his family history, his fire service history, some of the calls he’s run and the recovery’s been through because the time we sat down to talk about this, his recovery’s been pretty amazing and he’s still in the middle of a recovery, basically.
So with that being said, I’ll turn the mic over to Dan. He can tell you a little bit of his family history and we’ll go from there. How you doing Dan?
DanW: I’m good. How are you doing today? I’m doing well. , going on family history. I, my, family is blue collar through and through. Going back even to my grandfather was a hard hat diver in the Navy during world war II and then rose through the ranks of con Edison in New York.
So it’s always been like hardworking. And then my dad it’s been. Firefighter 42, 43 years now, same department in New York. And then his profession was a corrections officer. So blue collar or family service, all that’s been huge, literally from birth. Even my mom worked in the ER, as a x-ray tech and that’s actually how they met cuz ironically enough, my mother accidentally knocked out my father with an x-ray machine when they worked in the ER.
So I, we bust chops about that all the time that mom just knew how to lay out dad. But but yeah I joined up in 2006, but I’d grown up in that firehouse. My dad was chief when I was growing up and pretty much lived at the firehouse or in a chief’s car at some point, just going to calls, with’em going to the firehouse, going to different event.
And as a kid, it’s cool. Who, what kid doesn’t want to play with sirens and all that fun stuff, but it was unbeknownst to me at the time, the start of how all this crazy stuff would happen in my life. I know we talked about it the other day, like the first event I ever had with trauma that I can remember.
And I know I ha I know I’d seen stuff before that, but the one that always stuck out was I was in second grade and go to school and, oh, what’d you do over the weekend? Oh, Johnny went to fishing with his dad. Kimberly went to dance recital. Oh, Danny. What’d you do? I saw brains coming out of a guy’s ears.
So in second
Stack: grade you saw this.
DanW: Yeah. And of course I called my call, my mom, and they’re like, So Danny said he saw this today, like what happened? And my mom was like, yeah he was with his dad that his dad’s a chief and they responded to it an auto accident. I can even tell you the exact intersection.
It was cuz I remember it like it was yesterday meeting
the car half rolled over. So it’s on side. The guy’s hanging out the window and I his skull is just wide open and at that age, I don’t know anything better. Okay, there’s a guy, there’s his brains. What else am I gonna do? As I say at
Stack: that age, do you even process it they’re brains?
DanW: I think I knew what it was.
I hate to say because of cartoons. Makes sense. It didn’t process. That’s a human being. That’s somebody that’s not going home in their family. And of course. I know it’s a generational thing, but parents don’t talk to you about that. You just, they don’t talk about how they felt.
So it’s you don’t talk about how you feel. You just all right, let’s go home, get on with the rest of our day. So you see
Stack: this in second grade you see the brains on the side of the road coming outta this guy’s head, mom and dad don’t have at least the slightest discussion with you about it.
DanW: I don’t think they knew how to discuss it. And it’s not that I hold anything against him for it. But even now as a parent myself, how do you approach that conversation of, Hey, this is what happened? How do you feel? Now it’s a little bit easier cuz I bounce some stuff off my dad, especially with my.
and I’ll ask him like how do you explain this stuff? And he go, and now it’s fine. It’s easier to talk about that stuff to a certain extent. But at the time I just don’t, I don’t think it’s fathom or I don’t think he thought about what I saw because I think he was trying to shield us.
But inadvertently, we all know about how you have to position apparatus and he just happened to be at the one spot. He wasn’t blocking everything. And like I said, unbeknownst to me at the time. That was the start.
Stack: Yeah. That’s a hell of a start. Second grade to see that, that’s gonna stick with anybody.
And especially if you don’t have time to process it. And at that time, like you said that day and age, that’s not what you did. No. This processing thing is probably a what? A few years old to be accepted in the fire service
DanW: at least. Oh yeah. I looked at, we look at our parents and firefighters, cops, all that growing up, they’re supermen.
Even like going on other calls, I wa I watched my father countless times run to a burning house with bare minimum gear, if gear on and you’re like, oh, what’s going on? Oh, dad’s being hero. Or you see something happening. People run towards the entire, and the biggest one that stuck with me as a kid.
I It did what a lot of people was nine
Stack: 11 of course. You’re from New York as well. Yeah. So of course it’s gonna stick with you. Yeah. It’s
DanW: I literally, I saw my father that morning. Came went to school, came home. Dad’s not home, like where’s dad, mom tells me he went into New York city.
Cuz when everything happened, they called every volunteer agency within the tri-state area. And I remember him calling me that night from ground zero. He, this was day and age where not everybody had cell phones, but he got a hold of one calls us. And years later I found out actually the reason he hung up so quick was cuz that was when was I think it was five world trade center came down.
Okay. And he’s on the phone, all of a sudden they’re all running down the street and I didn’t know this I’m a kid, but what stuck with me was couple weeks later, they had a funeral in the the town I grew up in actually one of the guys from our department who was also an FDNY firefighter was killed that day.
And to that time, it was like the biggest funeral I’d ever been to. And I’m looking around and I’m seeing thousands of firemen, cops, everybody. And I these guys are larger than life. They’re heroes and they’re sobbing, they’re uncontrollably sobbing, and it’s the first time it ever hit me that firemen cops are not indestructible.
And it just put it in my head at the time, but didn’t really like stick there because well, it happens to somebody else. Never happens to you. It you’re never gonna. Deal with that trauma. You’re never gonna deal with that. That sort of thing. You’re always gonna be the tough guy. And as we continue through like I said, the other day it was, you feel immune as a kid and you feel like nothing’s gonna touch you,
but it ends up eventually getting to you. The first time, like I said, growing up, I was in everything. I was boy Scouts, karate, altar server, textbook just blue collar family. But one of the things I had to do with boy Scouts was you had to be CPR certified to go away to camp. So I got that eight years old.
I, I was I’m CPR certified. Cool but I never thought I have to use. really ever. I was like 12, 13 years old and I’m with my dad. And by the time he wasn’t chief anymore, but they had all the the men that are pagers and it goes off elderly, female cardiac arrest right around the corner from my house.
And we’re already out, we were doing something going home Depot, whatever, and the house is literally half a block away. So my dad throws on his blue light runs. He runs up, he gets out of the car, looks at me. You coming, I’m like, shit, I’m gonna go help. My dad not knowing what I’m gonna see. And I mean happened to be lady that we’d seen.
Almost every day. Cause as soon as he came outta my development, it was the first as right in the corner. They’re always out waving me a high, just like the typical neighborhood family while I walk in she’s on the ground and my dad checks her, the pulls from the pulses. He goes, all right, start doing compressions.
I’m 12. What do I know? So I just do what I was taught. Just start pumping away. And we did that for, it felt like an eternity until everybody else shows up and that kind of goes shoot outta the way. And after all said and done, I got a, Hey, you did a great job. You good? I’m like, yeah, I I just did shit with my dad.
Come on. This is bad ass and it didn’t bother me until years later. and I’m sitting there. I’m like, what the fuck was I doing? 12 years old doing CPR? Like, why am I doing this? I shouldn’t have to do this. I’m happy I did because it was an experience. And I had plenty of them with my dad after that.
Luckily it was mostly when I was in the fire department after that. But that was the start. That was the, some people say that call the service. I knew what I was gonna do. I knew I was gonna join the fire department regardless, but I didn’t think then the track that it would lead me down. I definitely didn’t think it was gonna lead me to decisions.
I made the,
that That questioning in your head, that sense of feeling like you’re broken and fucked up. Yeah.
Stack: When it starts at second grade. Yeah. Second grade, 12 years old. Those are two traumatic, very traumatic calls for anybody let alone that age. You kinda wonder how many years it takes to boil to the surface.
If you don’t, if you don’t deal with it then, and it’s hard for a second grader to deal with something like that. You said that you came to the realization years later after the CPR, how many years later do you think that was?
DanW: I think it finally started hitting me like the impact of the calls, the impact of what I was doing.
I was probably 19. I started off the fire department and it was no holds barred from day one on calls. My first call was a fatal motorcycle accident where a girl got thrown. Dismembered, that was my first call. My first fire literally was the school around the corner.
And we had the roof come down on us. We were by ourselves for 15 minutes and it was hairy. It was right from the get go. It was off to the races, but then you think about it. And I tried going to my dad, I was like, I’m this shit’s bothering me and nothing up against him or anything, but he’s you either suck it up or this isn’t the job for you.
And I what kid watching their. parents like kick ass, take names, doing it. They can do it. I’m not gonna shy away from that. I gotta way, I gotta li I gotta live up to their reputation. I gotta live up to their expectations. So you swallow it and then you swallow more and it just keeps adding up.
And then, at that age, what else do you do? You start drinking, you start partying, you start finding ways to cope. And my way for the longest time was I find girls to hook up with, and it would just, that started the unhealthy choices that, all right I need an adrenaline rush. I need something to help this fix.
It’s a healthy way to do it, but you don’t think about the effects it’s having on you, the effects it’s having on other people.
Stack: So it stems from second grade, 12 years old through your volunteer time as a teenager. Yeah. At what age did you decide to become a career firefighter? Let’s start down that path and then we’ll get back to the to all the, these effects that are, you’re gonna experience.
DanW: So I knew early on, this is what I wanted to do. This is what I’m gonna go for. I went immediately into getting my EMT and then up by us, it was every fire district was volunteer, but they had. Two people every 12 hours who were the paid EMTs and paid medics. And they’d go out first and they’d get on scene quick so that you had that four or five minute response time, and then the volunteers would bring the ambulance in after you.
So I started off with that. And that was 2007. How old were you? Eight. I was 18. I probably just turned 19.
Stack: So you get your medic at 19 or is
DanW: I got my EMT EMT at 19. . I got my medic in 2011. . So roughly 22. Yeah. So I was like, all right, this, what I’m gonna do started getting jobs started working for X number of fire departments, cuz it was easier to get a per diem or a part-time job.
It was harder to get it full time. Of course. But of course I was taking FDNY I was taking Rochester, new Rochelle, Yonkers whatever test was in New York, I took it. And of course, the numbers are high for anywhere out there. So I kept doing EMS kept running calls. I’d go from one job to another.
Then go to the firehouse, run my calls there, go to the next job. Like I literally lived breathed and ate the fire service. I was constantly running. It wasn’t unheard of in a single day to run 20, 25 calls. And they’re not all the lift assist the fall down, pick ’em up. These were some legit high fidelity, interesting calls, and even starting off BLS, like I was a brand new EMT and we were getting stuff that.
You’re by yourself and it, the whole world feels like it’s falling around you. We had one guy I, the other day was thinking about it. Cause actually I was up in New York with some buddies and one of ’em was an old chief of mine. So we’re talking and he goes, oh, you remember that guy had the cherry picker.
And and I’m thinking about it. And I was like, holy shit. I forgot about that guy. And I’m, I was an EMT two weeks and we get a guy that falls out of a cherry picker, puts a chainsaw through his taint and pretty much all the way up to his ribcage. And I’m like, what the hell do I do? And I’m trying to figure it out.
I’m I have no idea. I have no guidance. I, it was, Hey, you got your EMT. Cool. Here’s the keys to the car. Go save lives. Yeah. Go run with it. Yeah. Figure it out as you go alone. And at the time you get back from those calls and it’s nobody talks to. You all right, get ready for the next one. And it was just like that.
So I just kept do trucking along with it, doing that, and then got my medic in 2011. Actually my son’s mother was pregnant at the time with my son and ran some interesting calls during that time. It was actually the first time I actually ran a child CPR was three days after I found out my, my ex was pregnant with my son and lady runs outta the house and throws a lifeless kid at me.
And I’m like, shit, this kid is nobody than what my son’s gonna be at that same time. And it was like the first time, the thoughts of life, the thoughts of parent are the thoughts of. What’s gonna things that might actually start to affect me. But like I said, it was, you don’t talk about it.
It’s you suck it up. You move on. So fast forward a little, I did my medic ran through the New York city program and then I think it was 2013. I started applying elsewhere. I had applications all over the place. I think I, one time I had 60 applications in, I was like, I just want ad New York. I want off long island.
I need something bigger. I need something better. And luckily the place where I’m at now was, was, they were like, all right what if you get called by this person? Whoever calls me first gets me first. I’m not holding out for any one department. I just want awful long island.
I want out of this place. I need to find new and better things. Because up until that point, I was still going between my parents’ house I was living at and then living with the girl I was dating at the time. And that was toxic as all hell, but that was no not entirely her fault. I She worked in the hospital in like the ICU, so she had her shit.
I had my shit, we never talked about it. It was just, you came home, you drank, you slept, you got back up, you dealt with life and it wasn’t the healthiest. And I just kept going back to, oh, if I can’t talk to somebody else I’ll just find ways to deal with my own personal shit, my own way. And everybody has their own way of whether it’s drugs, alcohol, for me, it was sex.
I didn’t care what I did. I just. I didn’t care how risky it was. I didn’t care if I was gonna get caught. I just wanted that rush. I wanted that feeling of nothing matters right now. Just get my pleasure and mind dump for a minute and move on. And unfortunately it was fortunately, it it was not the healthiest way of dealing with it.
It was the most,
I don’t wanna say destructive way, but at the time I thought it was the most destructive way. Not knowing that was just the beginning. That was just gonna start the process where later on I was that wasn’t doing it for me. So I drank more that wasn’t doing it for me. So I found Vicodins and then I get that.
And I tried Xanax and there were, there was a whole bunch I was trying at the time, just so I wouldn’t feel because when I started feeling, when I was alone, when I was whatever, you start feeling, all those demons creep up and it’s no, get the hell away from me. I don’t wanna deal with you. So then you find another way, another girl, another drink, another pill, whatever I could get my hands on at the time, just to not feel alone in my head, because that was just, that was the worst feeling in the world.
, and that, that kept going even after I got down here, I got outta that relationship, got into a new one. And most people that, that know me got a story of what happened with. With that girl, cuz there was a time where it blew up and it got me locked up. I,
I laughed afterwards the stories that came out about that. , I heard every rendition from that. Oh I just, you got arrested to, I was supposedly I was fighting cops and got tased and I was like, nobody even knows the story of what even happened. It’s
Stack: the fire department. Nobody needs to know
DanW: the real story and it wasn’t that it wasn’t as dramatic as everybody thought I we’d gotten into a fight cause I got caught cheat and it turned into a screaming match and she ended up leaving, but she said, I put my hands on her and we can argue that till the end of time.
Cuz. I’ve never physically put my hands on anybody in a mean way. I was just trying to be like, Hey, let’s talk about this, but it’s neither here nor there. It was what it was, but it was like the cherry on top of all the shit that was going on all the bubbling up, or I thought it was gonna be all the bubbling up.
And it got me into a bad place. I drank myself till I blacked out. I had cut myself. I didn’t care. I felt horrible. And I thought that was worse. I was gonna feel, what year was this? That was 2018. Yeah, that was 2018. I thought that night was the worst. Not knowing the days and weeks after that were just gonna be even worse.
Cuz at that. I was crashing on people’s couches. Cause I could be at my place because we had, we were living together and anytime you have an accusation of assault and battery, you can’t live at your place. So I’m crashing on people’s couches. I’m staying wherever I can. I’m on light duty because department won’t let you be on a unit.
If you don’t have a valid EMT. And of course the second year arrest of the state, suspends your license. So then the thoughts start creeping in. I’ll spend a lot of time alone, trying not to drink as much. It’s not working pills. Ain’t doing shit. And I’m just sitting there looking at all the trouble I’m causing people.
All the shit that’s going on in my head, the demons there coming back. I’m reliving calls. I’m reliving instances. I’m all over the place with no help in sight. And at this time, like I’m going to, I was going to therapy through, be through an employer provided service. We’ll put it that way.
Pretty much somebody that doesn’t underst I honestly felt like they didn’t understand what I was going through. They hadn’t been in my shoes and I was like, all right this is gonna be it. This is gonna be the end of it. Cause I’m not dealing with this shit anymore. And I was going down the road one day after after I got off work and.
I was like, all right, I’m just gonna do it. I’m gonna take my truck. I’m gonna hit the gas as hard as I can. First tree first pole, whatever I get to I’m driving straight into it. I’m
I was just done with it. It was the hardest and it felt like the easiest choice was that’s what I’m gonna do. And I got my truck time. I was doing probably buck 10, buck 20, how I didn’t get pulled over in that time span. I have no idea. And I F I, I saw the pull up ahead. I was going for it. And for some reason, the last second, the thoughts of my family, the thoughts of my friends in my head just was it just.
it hit me like a ton of bricks. Like I can’t do this to them. And I cut that wheel hard as I could, and luckily didn’t hit anybody or anything, but I was like, all right after that, I was like, I need real help. I need to do something about it. And that’s what started my my path down therapy.
I actually went out and I got away from the employer, provided one that wasn’t doing me, Jack shit. And I actually went out. I did research. I looked up different therapists, found one, went to her for a little bit, thought I was getting better thought I was doing good. And then just not feeling at home.
Like I could talk to my partner. Who ironically enough was the same one that I got in trouble with. Cuz we had worked it out or so I thought
Stack: so you’re back in the house with her. I
DanW: back in the house with her. We were working things out or I thought, but there, there was a clear divide. There was unspoken business that neither one of us wanted to broach.
Stack: What do you mean by unspoken business?
DanW: I was resenting her for what she did. She was resenting me, but we weren’t talking about it. We were like, oh, I missed you. I love you all that happy stuff, but we weren’t figuring out what the root of the problem was. It was just, I’m sorry. I cheated. She’s okay. I forgive you.
But not. Why did you do this? What made you get to that point? What made you think that was okay. So I’m going to therapy. I’m talking about how I want to get better. I feel like I’m feeling like I’m doing things wrong, but I don’t, I, I hadn’t figured out why I’m doing things wrong, just okay.
Let’s figure out how to make you feel better. Let’s figure out how to take care of the surface level. Problem. Doesn’t do anything. I ended up cheating again. And it finally just was like, all right I got, she was threatened to walk out on me. I was like, all right I’m gonna take this even.
I’m gonna take this more serious. We’re gonna start figuring out the problem. Like why am I doing what I’m doing it’s she’d ask me. And I’d. I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t know why I need this
Stack: and this being the fact that you’re going out and cheating on her and finding I’m going
DanW: out, cheating on her.
And I’m finding Vicodins, I’m finding whatever I can to be
Stack: numb. So it’s the sex. It’s the Vicodin, the alcohol, all of it. Still. All of it still. Okay.
DanW: And I finally found a different therapist, someone that was purposely for first responders, I was like, I going to the generic one really doesn’t do much. So I found one actually happened to be a friend of mine who, I knew she was a therapist, but I didn’t know her specialties or anything.
I just worked with her a couple times through foundations. I’m a part of, and when I say life altering, sitting down and talking and she goes, okay, I’m not surprised by any of this. And I’m sitting there. I’m like, you mean, you’re not surprised, like I’m surprised she goes, no, this is typical. This is what happens with, if she calls it our tribe, anybody that’s first responder or military, she calls it your tribe.
Cause we’re all one big family we really are. And and she goes, let’s go back and talk about your past. Let’s talk about things that’s gone on. And that was the first big step to realizing why I was doing what I was doing. It wasn’t that I was
like, I wasn’t trying to be a womanizer. I wasn’t trying to be popping pills. I wasn’t trying to be anything, but I didn’t know what else to do because at the time. Talking, wasn’t a thing. Like you didn’t talk about your problems
Stack: and you say at the time, this is what maybe 2019.
DanW: Yeah. It’s not a long ago.
It’s still it just, it, it, it seems like forever ago, but it, like I said, it’ss 2018, 2019. It’s three years ago. We’re just starting to bridge the gap of it’s okay. To not be okay. And I was like, all right, let’s figure this out. Let’s start down this past. So I stopped taking the pills, like hardcore stopped, cut down the drinking.
Like I’ll have a beer socially who people like, I don’t, I’m not worried about that, but I stopped drinking to get drunk drinking, to forget to alright, we’re out, we’re celebrating, I’ll have a beer. And even that for a while, it was nothing.
And then I started to realize, I need to open up to people. I need to talk about the hard question, the things I don’t want to talk about the nights of being up, what your mind racing, thinking about everything you could have done.
And it goes, and I, for years I was reliving calls after calls wondering, was it my mistake? Was it somebody else’s what could I have done? And then reliving each one over and over. And some of them were, some of ’em were beneficial because of the bonds it created. , but that was all I got out of it.
And luckily, a lot of those bonds still great. My best friend in high school, we’ve been best friends since, and it’s all because of a call. We were on that went, it went south quick , and long story short on that one, I was actually going to one of my jobs as a DMT and IP goes off for residential structure, fire in an apartment complex, multiple calls.
Right off the bat, you’re going to work. I called my relief hub. I was like, I’m gonna be late. We’re going to a job. Which up there it was, you call. It was okay. It wasn’t like if you don’t show up, you’re fired. It was all right. Figure out relief for you because we understand cuz everybody knew each.
So I show up to the firehouse I’m on the first two engine and it’s me, my driver officer, and four guys in four other guys in the back. A mile, we turn the corner and a mile away, you can see the glow. It’s alright, cool. We’re go. We’re getting this. We’re gonna go do it. We’re getting updates en route occupants strapped within.
So that just heightens everything up. And we pull up and it’s like a 30 unit complex, like an L-shape complex. And it’s one of those where if you go in the one door, it goes to the first floor. If you go in the next door, it goes to the second floor. This there’s fire through the roof. So we got people yelling us.
There’s a lady in there. She ran back in two of my guys, go on the search team. I’m on the nozzle, my best friend’s backing me. So I’m like, all right, we’re gonna, we’re gonna kick the hell of this.
We go up the stairs and there is no smoke. It is just floor to ceiling flame. It’s bright as day. I can see everything. And as I’m going up the stairs, they’re bringing the victim out. And I she is, she’s fucked out. Like I, you could, she was fucked. So we, they pass by as we go up the stairs and they start hitting the one room that’s on my left.
I was like, all right, I can go left. I can go. And I went, left,
knocking down the room and I got that one room knocked down and all of a sudden my hose goes limp. I got no water. Calling over radio. Hey, I got no water. I got no water. I’m getting weight one soon as I think the second message went out, that room lit back up the roof’s coming down and I’m starting to feel the floor saggy.
And I, I called the Mayday. I’m like, we’re losing the structure. We got shit collapsing. We’re bailing. Between me and the stairs is my brother
and I was, we were 21 at the time. He wasn’t the smallest guy. We called him. We called him big red for a reason. And I pick him up. I physically, I picked him up and threw him down the stairs. And as I’m doing it, I’m starting to feel the floor now give way even more. And I’m like, I don’t care what happens to me.
I’m getting him out and either a I’m going through the floor or I’m gonna have enough time to get him down the stairs and I’m jumping and wherever I land
throw him. And I had enough time that I was able to grab the banister and pulled myself and I go down the stairs. I didn’t hit one step on the way down. And I laying straight on top of him and we ended up regrouping ourselves and going back we hit it from the outside and made different attacks and we put it out and I went back to work.
we didn’t think about it. We were like, all right, cool. We good fire, whatever, go about your day. And it took, we were 21. Then we finally talked about it about three
about three weeks before I moved down here. And we were just having a couple beers the one night and he’s I gotta ask you something. I’m like what? He goes, why’d you throw me down the stairs. And I was like why wouldn’t this is what we do. And he goes,
but you didn’t know if you were getting out. I was like, I don’t care. That’s time. I didn’t care. I’m like, it’s what you would’ve done for me. And. since that day, like we’ve had a lot of instances and where we’ve been through some nasty shit, like a friend of ours passed away a lot of duty and pretty much we were inseparable after it.
We like, we went through that. We had birth of my son he’s he’s he calls my parents’ mom and pops like all his parents’ mom and pops. It’s just how it is. We’ve been inseparable on how the godfather of his daughter, my niece, and which that was a whole blessing of disguise, cuz that gave me a whole new view on life, just outside of my own kids.
But it was things like that, like events that you don’t think about it at the time. you just skip brush it off out as another good call. It’s another good call. It took years to remember Hey, what’s actually a good call because it’s not good for somebody else. It sure as hell.
Wasn’t good for us. I think it was just the, we made it out a live type of good call. We made it out. We thought unscathed. And then you realize later on, nah, you just didn’t, you didn’t make it unscathed. You just didn’t have physical injuries at the time.
There was just things like that for a while that you eventually lucky for me, I realized I need to do something about this because it was destroying my life. I hadn’t had one healthy relationship. until I finally took the time to realize I need to take care of me. And it took very traumatic breakup being on my own for a little bit.
And then look, I found the girl I’m now with who? God bless. I don’t know how she deals with me half the time, but she
Stack: gets, I don’t know how anybody deals with you half the time to be honest, but that’s just my opinion.
DanW: That’s it. Yeah, we were joking about it the other day because we were actually with my brother, cuz I had to go up to New York cuz unfortunately a friend of mine that was on the USR team with me pass away the line to duty actually doing a training event for Earl UART team.
These are guys, we went through hurricane Sandy together. we went through all the initial training. Like when I say when people are like blood, sweat, and tears we had the blood and sweat, but we were very lucky as a team until recent. And then the tears part came, but we were sitting with my brother and I was just like some days, I don’t know why.
I just feel like I’m always an asshole. And he goes, that’s because you put on the facade cuz you don’t want, you don’t want people to see how you really feel. And it hit me and it hit me. Like it hit me like a ton of bricks. Cause I’ve, everybody knows. I got that New York personality. I don’t really give a shit what people say for a long time.
I didn’t. I thought I didn’t care what people thought, but that was just the facade I was putting on because I didn’t want people to see underneath this. Is a lot of scars, a lot of damage, a lot of shit. I don’t want somebody else to say and thinking,
almost thinking that old school mindset of we’re Superman to everybody else. They don’t need to see my scars. They don’t need to see how ugly it is underneath. And it only took until
I’d say six, seven months ago that I actually started opening up about shit like to other people before that I kept everything myself. And I know there’s quite a few people that think he’s just an asshole. It’s not that I’m an asshole. It’s just, granted, most days I can be an asshole. It’s just for a long time, I was.
keeping myself from letting other people see what was going on inside of my head and the easiest way to
do that was to push people away. Even though I didn’t want that, I wanted them in my life. I wanted them to be a part of me, but I’d push ’em away because I didn’t want to hurt them because I thought in my head, I’m gonna hurt you.
If you’re in my life, you’re gonna see my damage. You’re gonna be pulled into the drama, the trauma, all that. I don’t wanna do that to you.
And it, it took its toll for a long time. Like it, the hardest part, but the best part of therapy is learning how to communicate, learning, how to talk about the stuff that was hard to talk about. and even talking to my father, we had been on hundreds of calls together. Good, bad indifferent. Some of the best calls I’ve ever run with my father.
Some of the worst calls I ever had were running with my father because I was trying to protect him while he’s trying to protect me. And it’s just constant back and forth. It would, it was button heads left and right. But that was cuz we were trying to protect each other and I didn’t even realize my father had his own mental health stuff until actually it was the day before COVID actually became a thing in New York.
He got a knee replacement and doctors going through his med history and names, a couple of antidepressants. I’m like. Wait till the doctor listen, I’m like, what the fuck? And he goes, what? I was like, you weren’t gonna tell me this. He goes, what, how am I gonna tell you this? He’s why are you on this?
And he goes, why wouldn’t I be, I did 30 something years in corrections. He goes, I’ve done at the time. It was only 40 years. Only in the fire service. He goes, my lungs are shit from ground. Zero goes, I saw shit that I only, that I don’t even wanna talk about ever. And he still to this day, and I’ve poked a little bit, but he won’t tell me, but he is I don’t know what to tell you.
I don’t know how to tell you. And that was the thing growing up. That was, I don’t wanna say ingrained, but it’s the best way to put it that we didn’t know how to talk about things. My mom, I love her, but her family did not talk about anything. So she was almost emotionally detached on something. She was a great mom.
My parents were, they busted their ass for me and my sister. I am grateful for what they did for us, but we didn’t talk about things like that. As a family, you just held it in, you worked through it, go to church and pray. Yeah. That worked well for me.
Stack: so the therapist you found that you met through the foundations, right? Yeah. This starts coming out during that time. Yeah. Okay. And what does she find? What discoveries do you make while you’re in therapy with. and not specific, not the calls necessarily, not what caused it, but what was the result of everything that, what did she say?
Was there a diagnosis? Was there medication? What route did you go?
DanW: So I, she diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety, depression. I went down the meds route. I did. And it’s been like, I hate to say, it’s all they teach you in like EMT school, that locking key. Yeah. It really is a locking key. When it comes to mental health meds, I’ve been on Lexa pros, all loft Xanax, which is actually in the lower dose, which scared the hell outta me, cuz I took it to be dumb.
Now I’m taking it for the real reason for it. It’s been amazing, but it’s been back and forth and some days I got discouraged because the meds wouldn’t work. There was actually a couple that it made me worse and I would take it and. my head would spin even harder. It was like looking at a New York city, subway station, all the trains going by, and you cannot focus on one.
I wasn’t sleeping for a while and it was just a lot of trial and error. So it took a while of patience and understanding, and God bless her soul. She deals with me cuz I know I’m not easy. I’m thick at it. I’m stubborn. I’m a new Yorker. It’s how it is. But what I found was that I needed to love myself more instead of trying to protect everyone else, protect myself by opening up to myself about what’s going on.
What’s the problem. How do I fix the problem? And there was something for the longest time of if not me then who? That was stretching me so far that it was costing me and I was always involved in stuff, but at what risk, so I finally took some time to do some self love, do some mental healing, bought myself a motorcycle, which there as dangerous as it is, no distractions other than what you’re doing at the present moment.
God, that’s like that’s Mo that’s meditation on a whole different level that I didn’t even know about.
But yeah, that was, it’s, that’s been the story for the last year with her and it from where I was then to where I am now. I look at it and I’m just like, it’s like night and day. I wouldn’t open up about anything before then. I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I would just go home. Do you owe my shit? I kept my promise to myself or I thought I was keeping my promise to myself, but I was just angry in an asshole to now I’m able to talk about what’s bothering me.
I’m able to almost ground actually ground is the best way to put it ground myself and get rid of those thoughts when they start creeping in or realize, okay, those thoughts are there. What purpose are they serving? None. Bye. See you later. And then move on to the next one, which trying to deal with those demons.
It was actually a lot easier because she pointed out to me and I’ve kept it going since is. If it’s not serving a positive purpose, forget about it, just let it go. And it took a while for that detachment to finally set in to finally say, it’s okay to not feel okay all the time you’re gonna have your down days.
It’s like working out some days are great. Some days suck. And on the days that it sucks, you still do something just to keep the wheels, turning, moving a positive manner, move towards something instead of shrieking back and being like I failed yet again.
Stack: So what things are you doing on a daily basis
DanW: every morning?
I’m finding a way to, I used to get up, get ready for work. Just run out the door every morning on the way to work. I’m doing some type of positive affirmations. Keep my, get my head going in the right manner. Start my day off as best I can. Some days are better than others, but taking time for myself, taking the 10 minutes a day to read something new, taking the hour a day at mental to go workout.
Even if it’s not great workout, do something because you get the endorphin release. Okay. It’s good. You’re not static being okay with and accepting with myself that some days I’m gonna feel certain ways and that’s okay.
It’s been a lot of having to sit and think when I don’t wanna sit and think and being like, okay, you can’t hurt me anymore. The thoughts that come to my head. All right. You know what, maybe I did make mistakes in the past. That’s the past. I can’t change a lot of things. I can’t change the outcomes of some of the patients.
I can’t change the outcomes of some of the calls. What did I learn from it though? And I started doing that. I started journaling everything. I got, I go through one of those leather bound books every two weeks. And I got a pile in a box at work that I just keep just, cuz that’s honestly been the best place I journal is like during the, every, when everybody’s taking that downtime, I’m upstairs journaling and it’s five, six pages a day easy
and it helps get my thoughts in order because I just thought I was scatterbrained for a longest time. And then I found out that was one of. Pros, what PTSD is. You end up being scattering because you can’t put your thoughts in order all the time. So I started making lists as simple as in, as stupid as it sounds, making that list in the morning of I have to take care of X, Y, Z has
made my life more beneficial, more positive. Cause even when I have a bad day, I just look at that list and I’m like, all right, I got three outta five things done today. That’s positive. Even if I got one thing done that day, it’s a positive, all right move on to the next day. I gotta take care of this.
Just seeing the progress. Even if it’s, I take a step back, physically seeing that progress helps rewire my brain to realize, okay, you’re gonna make mistakes, but it’s only a failure. Let it be a failure and just constantly doing that every day. Eventually at some point it worked out cuz even when I was having the roughest of days and I’ll be honest, I’m not at a busy station anymore.
So I have plenty of time to sit and think it helped make those days even easier because instead of sitting there going, fuck, why am I at such a slow station? I want, I wanted to do more calls. I wanna do this. I wanted to do more calls cause I wanted to help more people. But it was mostly because I didn’t want to sit there and think about things and now being able to think about it and realize, all right,
Let’s battle something else this day. Let’s let’s make a positive outcome, whether it’s I talk to my rookie about, Hey, what’s going on home, everything. Okay. going over what he saw, trying to pass on what I’ve learned to him early. So that 16 years later, he’s not in the same position.
I was so 10 years into his grade. He is not drinking, taking pills, ruining relationships, because I don’t want people to go through what I went through. And it was nobody’s fault. But myself, because I didn’t have the pride to sit there and say, I’m hurting. I need help. We teach recruits all the time.
Call ’em a, at a, if you think you’re hurt or you’re in trouble and we drill it into ’em. But until recently it was not okay. to call Mayday on yourself for mental health, for the things you saw at work or things that happened in your life. And it was things like that. I wish I had known then that could have helped me along the way to get me to where I am now sooner.
Stack: I’ll edit that out, but I thought it stopped recording for a second. I was gonna be, I have it recording here as well, but so when we talked bef when we talked a couple weeks ago, you talked about meditation and therapy. So those are your keys, right? The talking it out, the medication or the meditation therapy.
How often are you going to therapy today?
DanW: I’m still doing once a week, some days or some weeks? Twice a week. And the cool part about it is. My therapist is awesome. I can literally text her and be like, I’m having a bad day. And regardless of what she’s doing, she will get back to me at some point and talk it out with me, even if it’s a 10 minute conversation.
And that has been a huge thing, because some days you just, you need somebody to talk to and you can’t schedule a therapy session. You can’t do all those things that you would get to in a therapy session. So even that 10 minute conversation through text message is beneficial.
Stack: So you mentioned that you put up a front as an asshole.
Yeah, because it was easier than it was easier to be thought of as an asshole than it was to share the scars and the traumas. And to let somebody know who you. so on a personal note, and this is funny because we met, when did we meet 2015, 16
DanW: ish? Yeah. Around there. I, yeah, I joined here in 2015.
Stack: So it would’ve been 2016, probably. Yeah. On the east end of our county. I know that during that time leading up to 2018 where things start to come to a head for you. Yeah. You were a small doses kind of guy for me, , I could take you in small doses but I didn’t want to, I didn’t wanna have those conversations, but now it’s obvious why you, and when we talked a couple weeks ago, I remember going in thinking, all right, what’s this gonna be like?
Cause I was curious, I didn’t know what it was gonna be. Like, we’ve bounced ideas back and forth with each other via Instagram, but we really hadn’t had a conversation since probably 2016 or 17. Yeah. But when we sat and we talked, you were a completely different person when I talked to you that day and.
I think it’s been an amazing transformation for you and I’m proud of you.
DanW: I definitely appreciate that, cuz I knew I was a small doses kind of guy didn’t wanna always admit it, but it was easier to do that then. For lack of better words, I didn’t wanna look like a pussy in front of people sometimes.
Stack: Understandable. I mean we’re firefighters as yeah. Dumb as it sounds. We still say it we’re firefighters. Yeah. All right. So as we wrap up and you’ve heard a couple of the episodes, so you know what I’m gonna ask you, I’m gonna ask you about an everyday carry the show’s called the things we all carry for.
Good reason. We carry that stuff into a fire, into a call, into a EMS call, whatever it is, we’re carrying tools in with this, but we carry this scar out with this. We carry a memory out with this. What’s something physical that you carry on your body all the time that you feel naked without.
DanW: are actually three things I carry every day everywhere I carry. And for the most part, they don’t leave my body. Okay. The chain I wear was actually given to me by my grandmother, the day my grandfather died. She literally took it off. Him, gave it to me and doesn’t come, hasn’t come off since what’s the chain, so gold chain, but then it’s got a ke across and St.
Jude metal. Okay. And I mean that’s never come off, it’s it. If I take it off. Oh, I feel naked. I have my bracelet. That was for my friend Joey day. A lot of people know of Joey. He was one of the firefighters that bailed out on black Sunday. He ended up passing away years later from injury sustained with that.
He actually had an accidental overdose on pain killers and antidepressants. the scars from that event. So I never take off that bra, that bracelet, cuz it’s been a, that’s a constant reminder of it could always be worse, but then I wonder, could it have been better because if he had the opportunity to talk to people the way we are now, would that have changed?
Anything for him? Would’ve made life easier. Would he have needed the antidepressants? And he taught me a whole he taught me what it was like to be that type of firefighter that you, that everybody strives to be. Cuz he was the go-to guy and he was a good friend of mine. And the last thing is I have one of three challenge coins.
I carry with me most of the time it’s my honor guard academy one just because it reminds me that the things we do. Aren’t just for you, they’re for everybody else. And even when you gotta stand, when you gotta stand tall, you gotta stand tough. You’re doing it because you’re helping somebody. But it reminds me that we sometimes have to find somebody else to stand tall.
Staff stand tough for us. And the other two are Memorial ones that I got from two funerals that I did that were friends of mine. And I don’t always keep them on me as much one, cause I’m afraid of losing them. And if I lose ’em I’m gonna spin out but yeah, those are the three things
Stack: I like it.
That’s that’s quite a list but they all have meaning and they’re all appropriate. So good choices. All right. What
DanW: book? as cheesy as it’s gonna sound actually extreme ownership. Oh, jock Willie. Yeah. All right. It’s. One of those things that no matter what aspect of my life, I could take those lessons and incorporate into whether it’s my personal life, my work life, whatever, just having ownership over, especially how you feel taking ownership of it, taking the lessons learned from that to not end up in another I, they say blue on blue, but I don’t wanna be fighting myself.
Cause that’s where you’re gonna get hurt. The most
Stack: it’s like extreme ownership in your own life. Yeah. I guess we could all take a dose of some extreme ownership in our own life. Definitely. Brother. It’s been a good conversation. Yeah, I appreciate it. I thank you for coming by. It’s the easiest, but it’s alright.
They’re not supposed to always be easy. No. So are you sharing some deep stuff here? And so it’s not expected to be easy, so I appreciate it. I just wanna say thank you again.
DanW: Thank you man.
Stack: Cool. We’re out were out.