Today, I’m joined by Stephanie. Stephanie is a firefighter paramedic from my region in Virginia. She has nearly 20 years of service on the job. I first heard from her when she reached out on Instagram to tell me she was using my episodes as a teaching tool.
Her episode speaks volumes about the treatment of females in the fire service and in the world in general. Stephanie’s story is at times raw and heartbreaking yet there are moments that are uplifting and help restore some faith in the meaning of crew and humanity.
Five After Midnight
Stack: Welcome to another episode of the things we all carry. Today, I’m joined by Stephanie. Stephanie is a firefighter paramedic from my region in Virginia. She has nearly 20 years of service on the job. I first heard from her when she reached out on Instagram to tell me she was using my episodes as a teaching tool.
A little later on, she reached out again this time to invite me to be a guest on her own podcast. The five after midnight podcast, you can find under the heading of fire engineering. We sat down and recorded an episode for her show. And as we were finishing, she says, you know, I have a pretty interesting story to tell that’s all I needed to hear and immediately asked her to be a guest on my show.
Her episode speaks volumes about the treatment of females in a fire service and in the world in general. Stephanie story is at times raw and heartbreaking yet there are moments that are uplifting and help restore some faith in the meaning of crew and humanity. A quick reminder to please help us build a community which not only recognizes, but supports each other through the struggles and recovery. Reach out through Instagram at the things we Or email my email@example.com. To offer support and share your story. Please remember to leave a review on iTunes and give a shout out to any first responder, you know, love or care about y’all enjoy the show.
the story. She dropped a hint here and there, but she knows what she knows what to do behind the mic. And so I’m not really
worried. You know what I’m saying?
So I’m not really worried about you telling the story. I just, I’m going to be.
I’m an audience member, so I have no inkling of what’s going on until.
we start talking.
Stephanie: How traumatized I can make you
Stack: alright alright. Where do you want to start?
You want to tell me about.
Stephanie: at the beginning.
Stack: All right. So w where did you grow up?
Stephanie: Born and raised Actually right around this area, born at prince William hospital back before they even had a frickin birthing wing. So
Stephanie: Navy grew up in Northern Virginia and around Northern Virginia.
Had two parents that didn’t get divorced.
all that wonderful normal stuff.
Had bonus parents of my grandparents live
in right down the street, which is. Really.
Actually extra cool.
helped discover electromatic magnetic interference and all that nerd stuff. So he set up.
Out and Fauguier county. He set up. this whole little government training center.
and It . Made it a
pretty cool Childhood because we lived right nearby.
and all these scientists from all over the world were coming and training under him and all that.
At a very young age.
got exposed to very.
diverse atmosphere and high level of
Which I think was very key. For how my childhood went Didn’t really.
Didn’t really get to.
goof off Too much.
because there was always a high standard set.
that kind of stuff. Goal’s always had to be written out that kind
So really great stable childhood.
The only really weird thing is.
went to a very religious church and I say religious, because there’s a difference between.
in my personal opinion, faith and religion. Not fan of
No whatsoever. So they went to this church with all their college and some high school friends. Actually, they all. Moved. You know that movie, the village.
Stephanie: That M night Shalane V movie.
Stack: Oh, yes, I do.
I know what you’re talking about.
Stephanie: Like that.
They all moved to this one
area. It all started going to the same church together.
And this place.
Got weird, fast. They made you.
they made women cover their heads.
cover their ankles and all that.
So got exposed to that kind of.
Stack: evil ankles.
Stephanie: So got exposed to.
a very Young age.
at seeing how fast. People can buy into something. I one day was a normal church the next day, your.
Learning how to need bread or something at home? I don’t
know. It got weird fast.
And I’ll my parents did that thing.
For a couple years, It was pretty weird.
Finally They left there. Thank God. After people start saying, Hey we could see your child’s.
My mom didn’t do that.
My mom didn’t fucking cover her head or ankles or anything. Short power suit to church. And. One day, the pastor said, Hey, we could see your daughter’s knees.
So they left that that was luckily the most traumatizing part of my childhood. So really.
Really good strong foundation.
going into life. Thankfully, if That was the most traumatic
thing that occurred to me, we’re doing
Stack: Well, let’s be honest. And I don’t want to, I don’t want alienate people, but religion can be traumatizing.
Stephanie: You know what I will say this. Do I believe in God? Yes. Will I ever step foot in a church again?
Stack: Yeah. And there’s your difference between religion and spirituality?
And that’ll be a topic for a whole.
different show, but yeah,
I agree with you.
Stephanie: Episode three of this shit show.
start was able to work because my dad my grandfather had their own company
starting in age. 12 was able to get that permit to work. So always had my own money banks around age 14. I told my parents.
I want to start.
Traveling every summer doing different.
humanitarian trips. So did that 14, 15, 16. 16. Didn’t do it with an organization, just traveled on my own. And went to Eastern Europe back when Romania was trying to join the EU. So for those too young to know this. Europe.
Romania was a shit show back then.
because they had they’re an Eastern Bloc
Ceausescu had just stopped being ruler.
were an absolute disaster. kids were handcuffed to cribs kind of thing. So that was the first time in my life. I had done refugee camps. I had done. Haitian refugee camps, south American orphanages.
This was the first time I had ever
seen true human depravity. And. A dire need for medical care.
So came home from that.
and thought why I want to do something.
in the medical
Came home was doing pizza
With My friend.
and Her boyfriends with
us. And he said I’m an EMT. And I said what the fuck is AMT?
So literally that night marched me down to the local firehouse.
and got me a little volunteer application. And.
I think I got voted in a week later.
Stack: What year was this?
Stephanie: 2002 or three.
Stephanie: Got voted
that very first night there, I guess career staff is watching everybody go in career. Staff goes out, takes me, drags me into an office and says, Who are you? What are you doing here? And what’s your I think Tell that. My vibe was a little bit different than.
Then the normal teenager that came through and.
I think they wanted to set me on the right path early. So these guys were great. They were amazing. They put me right into EMT school, right into medic school.
Right into anything, they guided me right away towards.
The career path.
And the goal was always get a paramedic, get something like that. Go back overseas.
I never had any plans to join the fire department. Love torturing anyone.
who, thought fire was cool. Anything like that. I just thought those guys were total jerk offs. Never ever wanted
Stack: Not far off.
Stephanie: Depending on the human right. So that was always the goal. That was always the plan. So start EMT
Stephanie: Having to do ride time being a firehouse and all that. And any story. It’s fire department related. And I’ll tell.
During this little session the people involved are retired. I’m not.
doing this thing where anyone hears this and decides to do the right thing
We’re telling. We’re telling old and dead stories here.
I wasn’t really ready?
I think for the environment that comes along with the firehouse.
environment are we talking about? Cause there’s a few quote-unquote environments.
Stephanie: So back in the early two thousands.
There were not a lot.
of career females whatsoever. You’d find one in a battalion kind of thing.
females being in a firehouse was. Treated still as a game.
Girls came through and went most female volunteers.
It’s somewhere. Absolutely there for the right reasons. Some weren’t and I think people were just used to. Treating females a certain way.
was volunteering. There was a. There was a career Who would start paging me all the time. Back then we had pagers. If you’re born in the nineties, go look it up.
Would start paging me all the time. sending you call the firehouse
wondering what the emergency was.
It was nothing just wanted to talk, which I thought was weird, but whatever.
Got a hold of my email address started emailing.
all the time. Got a hold my phone.
Started calling all
the time. And I learned not to pick up, he couldn’t block people back then. It was just the brick cell phones. So figure it out. All right. Don’t pick up. This will go away. I started leaving just long rambling messages, whatever.
So about six months of this happens.
And then this individual decided.
She’s not returning anything.
So we’re going to start being mean So we started going down that path of
In the back of the engine and go on to calls, reach over, grab my knee, dig in, or grabbed my wrist and try to make Pop stuff like that.
And let me know one day, I’m just going
to do stuff like that.
until I get you to cry or scream, whatever, bring it on. I have four brothers. Didn’t really care. But God, to the point eventually where one night accidentally bumped into this individual.
Stephanie: Literally just turned around to walk away. It was. It was a true accident and just got punched in the spine.
And I went
down and that was the first time.
Off of a playground.
Another adult had ever shown aggression like that. And I remember thinking.
What the fuck did I do wrong?
because I’m the kid in this situation, there’s an adult doing this.
what was my first introduction? I think. To adult.
Aggression and what could happen out there. So I remember walking out of that situation, thinking.
This has to be me because I don’t see any, anyone else going through this. At the time. I was dating a cop. So I remember I left the firehouse. Went and found him and he said the exact same thing. So what did you do You must.
Stack: That assumption, right? There is so powerful.
Stephanie: Go through medic school. Luckily.
Get pulled out of that firehouse to go right on
I career medic units. And had the absolute opposite experience.
At two amazing preceptors. who looked at me and said, we have a teenage kid on our hands and we are going to do everything to conspiracy theory, prep this kid for the career she’s about to walk into and they were amazing.
They were great. They toughened me up. I don’t mean in a way that I needed to be toughened up, but just, Hey kid, this is the truth.
This is the reality
of the career Going into and the things you’re going to see and the way you’re going to be treated. And.
And they were absolutely.
phenomenal at it. Setting me up for success.
Stack: And that’s
what I was going to ask.
is where they setting you up for the realizations of what it’s like to be a female in a firehouse. Is that what you meant?
Stephanie: They were listen.
Don’t trust anyone until they’ve proven themselves to you.
Stack: not trust them at that point.
And don’t accept anything less than professional.
So they were fantastic.
They realized what they had on their hands. Thank God.
So at this point,
go and get myself hired. Turn 20 right before recruit school. And The cop I had been dating. At this point in life, there’s a little bit of an age difference.
This point in life.
Parents who still at
the time, I would no longer call them.
Religious but still at the time are very religious There. And their mind at the time it was Hey people. People can go get jobs, but the end goal is marriage kind of thing.
That was more of the game plan they had. So went ahead, moved in with this guy.
Started to make tracks towards that
Game plan in life, even though I.
wasn’t a fan of the idea. Start recruit school. Which was hysterical.
Just a great fun time getting to learn without any responsibility per se.
I don’t think any of us take. I think all of us take recruit school too easily. It’s going to be the most fun of your career. When you look back on
You hear that a few
times and it depends. Yeah. I, there were moments that were very fun. Yeah.
Stephanie: It’s a, it’s very hard. It’s very challenging. But at the end, you look back at it and you go, oh, I had no true responsibility other than to not be. An idiot.
Stack: Other than not fuck up.
and Just to learn. it’s That was your
Stephanie: the safest part of the whole fire service experience. So go through that. Graduate. And I remember graduation night.
I turned to the guy I was dating and I said, Hey, keep him on. I’m not even 21 yet.
turned 20. I said, Hey, A couple of us are going to go
out, grab a drink.
I’ll be home in a couple hours.
I’m obviously not going to drink.
I’m not about to blow the career. I just got. And I remember.
Him being, a little. Angry about that, but whatever. So go out.
Do Deanna with the rest of my recruit
school. And then go back.
And I remember, so this is day one of my career. I think I had one day.
off Before I started on B shift. Don’t hold B shift against me. It was only for 13 years.
Stack: hold it because I am on BCF.
Stephanie: I remember the next morning, just this individual just would not talk to me. And I remember thinking what the hell man?
Stephanie: I was in recruit school. You went.
On a million little trips without me. And I just went.
And hung out with the rest of my recruit school and celebrated our achievement.
So that should have been the first red flag.
You left me alone.
kind of thing, whatever. So go and start shift. Being a mouthy females prior experience, walking into a firehouse made for a hysterical. Probie year. Let’s just put it that way. It was not traumatizing. Won’t say anything like that, but just a difficult probie year because I walked into
Difficult. I can’t imagine what those poor guys went through and they were all young and not prepared to have a, mouthy outspoken female coming into their firehouse. So Probio was a little challenging. And during that time home life got pretty weird, pretty quick.
I would come home and tell stories about the guys I’m working
with. And suddenly it became a
You’re sleeping with them. And then it became a. You probably slept with your instructors to get through recruit school.
Got to the point where every day coming home. I just was a barrage of.
You’re you have to be a whore to be a female firefighter, Just
all this stuff. Now.
this all the fucking time.
We run these calls.
It’s a female’s fault for staying.
And something that I think people always miss in these stories.
And one of the reason I’m telling
this story not my favorite story. In fact, only two people in the world have ever heard it. So congratulations to you.
Stack: A few more soon. So I apologize.
but I don’t.
Stephanie: That’s it’s, You know what it’s, a, and.
Stephanie: As I get older.
I discover one day, my game plan since I was a small child, has always been to be a hermit, the book, Heidi’s grandfather. That’s always been my game plan. So I realized as I approach Hermitage stories are learning. Yeah, experiences for people. And that’s why.
I’m telling this one, but to get back to that bath.
When people talk about it’s a female’s fault for staying in that situation.
It’s like the biology frog and hot water.
thing, You meet a human being.
They’re nice. They’re kind. And they win over your family. They win over, you.
And then that water slowly gets turned up. And then you’re really taught.
This is your fault. I
am, I’ve never been this human being with anyone before. I’m only this human being right now with you.
Because you broke me.
and it’s your job to stay and Fix me. So that’s something that people need to understand when they run. These calls is.
That is why a person is there. They’re there because they’re told that this is their
fault And they want to fix it because.
you know Who who doesn’t want to fix something. They broke, especially as fireman. That’s an, all of us.
We’re fixers. We are fixers.
That situation It went from that. To learning how to a.
Ended up being lots of holes around my
home, which meant. Stopped having friends over.
Stopped going out with friends.
I was never a big go out or, but just, lunch with female friends, whatever.
Because I didn’t want to have to answer the question of how’s life. So just a real self isolation.
Began to happen.
Stack: Was it just self isolation or was it coming from him as well?
Stephanie: It was both ends. Okay. Isolation by necessity. From that end and a self isolation of truth, just your embarrassment. So at this point luckily for me,
Some of the guys on another shift, just started to noticings, when they’d answer the phone at the firehouse, because back then. Cell phones weren’t reliable. So reception was horrible. So someone who wanted to habitually know where you were and get ahold of you couldn’t buy cell phones. So you’d call the firehouse.
Guys on other shifts we’re starting to notice things. Thank God.
And Starting to make little comments. Here and there.
Which I think
I was a little too young to pick up on, but.
I was definitely being watched.
In a good
way. And guys some of the lead instructors.
and recruit school
It picked up on a thing or two from family
night when he came by and. And I wasn’t alone as I thought it was. Eventually get to the point where. I realized this is not, this is affecting my career.
Calling and screaming at me when I’m at the firehouse stuff
Stephanie: I’ve always wanted, I’ve wanted this career for longer than I’ve known this person. So this person has to go.
So did that. And family did not handle it just Parents were very upset because nobody knew what was
going on. Friends were upset, when everybody’s eyes, this is a great human being. You’re you’re the bitch. You’re the problem. You’re being immature. Oh, is it because you’re surrounded by guys now, just all that backlash.
up my probie year, navigating probie here and just really dealing with adult issues that, 20 year old. Shouldn’t be dealing with
So that was an interesting way to
to start the fire service.
And after I left the suicide threats started.
Which he would.
I remember one night. He called.
I was out with a friend.
And just said, Hey, have a gun to my head.
down and then I’m pulling the trigger. And so he started a countdown and I’m crying and saying, don’t do this.
And When he got to one.
just the phone went
silent And I just remember screaming into space.
And couldn’t get ahold of.
him for like half hour head home and.
and he answers
the phone and has some.
Pretty ugly things
to say. And I remember about two days later. Ran a suicide. Go into a psychiatrist’s office of all things and his wife’s practice was next door.
And wa and she had called nine 11. So I walk in first person there.
And I’m looking around, don’t see anything. And then I see a large, trash bag The yard leaf size ones, and I walk over and. And I look trash bag.
The yard leaf size ones.
and I walk over and. And I look and he’s in there. Gunshot wound to the
And then the suicide note is next to it. So.
Have a glance at that. And then I realized I hear this noise.
Did his, And we were all on the scene at that point.
engine, medic, and cops, and we hear noise and we look over and. And the wife this entire time had been hiding under this little coffee table, just crying. And I think that call really stuck into my head because of that, But because of everything going on in my home life.
Woke up at 2:00 AM
that night in my bunk. And this individual is just standing there. Gunshot wound to the head. And that was the first and only time. Thank God that I’ve ever seen.
Something like that after a call.
I don’t know.
if it’s hallucination, dream, whatever, but where you’ve seen the victim of a call But at that point in time, I realized. What whatever is going on at home. Has an effect on my career.
And I never put those two together.
I’d always just.
thought I’m Strong enough to do this one thing. So I’m strong enough to handle the other thing and I can keep them separate.
and can keep them compartmentalized. And that was, and I was very lucky to discover That young. Because of that call. That was when I realized,
Home comes along
with you because you’re always taught probie or Hey kid, keep that shit at
Stephanie: You’re at the firehouse. You’re at the firehouse. You don’t think about what goes on at home.
And the true realization of no that’s truly physically impossible, mentally impossible. You can’t do that. Really hit hard that day.
So shenanigans keep happening because I’m not telling anybody shenanigans
Are happening with that individual and just finally got to a point.
And like I said, I had moved out. And I had moved out because someone from another shift actually,
The night, all the crazy phone calls happen. I called the firehouse.
Saying, Hey, I’m out sick tomorrow.
And A little bit ended up slipping out.
said You’re leaving and you’re leaving tonight.
And I did.
Thank God. So once again, someone in the fire department. Observing was brave enough to step up and say something. And that really had a.
a. Very positive effect on.
me being alive So moved
And one, one night this individual called and said,
need you to come back
to the house. We have to talk about
And I did, and I went.
Not going to get into that night because I don’t know what kind of reaction I’ll have talking about
But it was made very clear. I was not leaving. That house alive that
And I remember.
Just at the end of the night.
Just being in a corner. By myself. Just not knowing.
What. What life looked like moving forwards. And this individual. Left the room to go use the restroom and I just.
Ran the fuck out
Stack: of there.
Stephanie: And the reason I’m telling this story is it is necessary to make the a point.
I remember just running from my life and thinking I’m gonna hear a gunshot and at any moment. And luckily my car was parked nearby.
and didn’t made And this is the important Called my dad. And I remember calling my dad sobbing. And telling my dad. Everything. And then I remember a week later doing the same to my mom. And in life just.
Went on my parents never said anything to me about it.
which I thought was weird. And.
Then I found out that they were still having this individual over for dinner, which I thought was.
horrible. So I ended up not talking to my parents. For four years. Because of that. And the reason I tell that story is this. Come to find out years later. After running a call. I had flashbacks. And during those flashbacks, I could clearly see myself on the phone with my dad. Saying, absolutely nothing.
And I can see myself talking to my mom saying absolutely nothing. So I went to my parents and I said, Hey, do you remember.
This phone, call is conversation. They said, yeah, it was.
my mom said, yeah, you were just standing in front of me crying. My dad said, yeah, you called me and you were just silently on the phone and you said nothing.
And that was a slap in the face.
A wake-up slap. Because.
We as foster first responders, when we think of PTSD.
We always think of people in wars.
have survived murders is we don’t think of anything in normal. Nothing about that story is normal, but in more routine family life, As having the ability to give us any kind of PTs and especially as firefighters. We’re strong enough to handle anything. We see these things on calls for fuck’s sake.
So if I see this on a call, when it happens to me, I should be able to suck it up and mentally move on past it. I’m here to say no. Your body will find ways to protect
And that was very eye opening. I didn’t.
come to that realization till my mid thirties.
That that your brain will do whatever it takes
to survive, even if it means completely closing the doors to reality and making you think, Hey, no, I’ve. I’ve made myself safe by telling these people, these sayings and I’m safe. Now it will do whatever it takes to survive.
So that was that was shocking.
to find out after having missed out on.
Actually, I think it was six years of life with my parents. So all that happened in my early twenties. Go on. After probie year, get assigned to a firehouse. That was a lot quieter. On day two of being there, the captain pulls me aside and
Stephanie: Hey, I just, I don’t like you
never going to like you, you and I are always going to be oil and water and we’re never going to get along. And he proceeded to make my station life. Reflect that statement.
So just went about my day and no matter what I did.
There was paperwork I cleared.
The plate of the guy in front of me and the plate.
the guy next to me.
I got paperwork for not clearing it for the whole table. And I’m not the probie. There are two probies just absolute ridiculousness that wouldn’t happen in this day and age, we have the safety. Safeguards in place for that not to happen anymore, but just.
Stack: I don’t mean to interrupt, but actually I do mean to interrupt because I’m worried that those safeguards aren’t necessarily as in place as they should be nowadays.
Stephanie: Oh, they’re still not. they’re still not.
Stack: want to make sure that we we touch
on that a little bit, because I don’t think they are.
Stephanie: And definitely in a lot of smaller departments.
Not centered around metropolis departments. They absolutely are not.
And I do see that working lot with with women and women’s health. I’m still amazed by some of the stuff I see. But at least where I am now. I’m a lot more safeguards. Are in place. And the reason I tell this story is because having just come out of that situation,
Where I had to figure out what was my fault and what was not
Stack: in life.
Stephanie: This was dumped in my lap. And this absolutely was setting me up. To break me in every way shape, and form possible. If it were not. For the most amazing Of guys I have Before I came along at this house and it was a specialty house.
So all the guys who were there wanted to be there, they worked hard to get there. This was considered.
The Pinnacle hazmat house. And, you were. You were really good if you were there kind of thing. And I watched one by one. These guys. Go up to the captain. Over the course of six months and say, stop And you’re wrong. And I watched one by one. As these guys were transferred out over a four day. Sent.
Stack: to IAA for random bullshit.
punished one by
Stephanie: And I’m very sorry.
for what happened. To the careers of those guys. But it’s. Took me. And systematically. Built me back up as a human being to watch other individuals see something wrong.
And put their careers on the line was just The greatest gift I could have asked for.
at that place in time.
That all came to a head. When one day the captain made me, he put a piece of paper in front of me and said, Hey, someone told this joke, you were in the room, write down all the names of everyone involved in. I said this joke was six months ago. not telling Anything, because I’m not going to remember accurate descriptions of a joke six months ago.
So he, I wasn’t truck qualified took me off the engine. put me on the truck.
took the truck out of service, which back then was huge. No-no because
Trucks in the area.
But the truck out of the service. Pointed to a street sign outside so that things Go dig it up. Go dig a new hole and cement the new one in place and shore it up. So sure enough. Went outside to
And go outside and the individual who is in charge of making sure I did it, I said, Hey, can you go grab me a bag of cement? I don’t know. I don’t even know where we would have that in a firehouse. And he said, Nope. We’ve been ordered, known as allowed to help you. So here’s the situation where I’m standing in the middle of the road, by the way to do
Stephanie: Trek Lieutenant poor guy was.
overtime or detailed in has no fucking clue what’s going on. I think he thought I must have murdered someone.
He closed down part of the road for me and all the guys are just standing around, like what the fuck do we do now? And most is a day. The day this happened. Almost all of our guys were off. So it it was planned this
So there I am digging a hole in the middle of the road. Or in the middle of the sidewalk.
Take a new whole. Put a sign in place.
Cemented into the ground shored up and all that. Luckily one of the other guys on a different
shift said, What in the actual fuck. And he went and he made some phone calls and I was out of there, I think two nights later. So once again, someone’s stepping in and saying, I don’t care about my career as much as I do. The right thing. So I was gone within two days.
Went to a much different, much busier firehouse across
the county. And my first day there, I remember being under the engine with my new master tech going over.
Morning check stuff. And I get called into the office. and I’ve got grease all over my face. And. This motherfucking captain is sitting there with my new battalion chief and my captain, and he proceeds to trash me and the most hysterical way ever. Just nonsensical stuff. She could have been outside.
Doing drills in the middle of winter by herself. She could have pulled hose lines by herself and keep in mind. I’m already done with my probie stuff. And.
Stack: This was the captain from the previous.
Stephanie: To, to my new Firehouse.
Stack: Shit talk you to the captain and
Stephanie: Yeah. And uh, Correct? Correct. And my cat, my new cat till say. W what was she doing instead?
She was studying. Instead. So it just, it was ridiculous hysterical stuff. And. In front of me, my brand new chief looked at him and said, If you ever come by this fire house again? I will physically throw you out.
And that was really the start of my fire department career for me.
because. It was the first time in my life. I had. Thankfully everything had even
Still wasn’t speaking to my family because I hadn’t realized things yet. But I had a shift of guys who looked at me and saw a complete underdog. With potential. And they were not easy on me. Everything was earned. Nothing was given. But they were amazingly fair.
And they restarted my career, essentially. It was just a nice little control alt delete of everything that happened in the past. At that last station. They took and rebuilt my faith. In humanity in my career. So career really started a fresh and I got to learn things in a much.
And finally being able to, and because it was back to being busy. First assignment was crazy busy and just was busy. Focusing on survival at home, and didn’t get to focus on how I handled calls. So this was the first time in my career where I get to focus on calls.
And how I handled them.
And we ran.
A lot of traumatic stuff.
And it was. Great, our captain. Amazing dude would tell us, listen, if you need to talk to someone. And this isn’t the career Great guy, but very old school.
And you shouldn’t need therapy.
you should be able to see something. And absorb it.
So that’s played into how I felt about.
My early adulthood experiences. I should be able to. Handle it absorb it. We’re firemen. We’re tough. We can do everything.
So I remember we ran this one call.
And it was a three-year-old who.
her grandmother at Tysons corner center had thrown her off. One of the.
The pedestrian bridges
50 feet down.
So we get there. We think she’s dead. Which is horrible to say that would have been easiest, but we rolled her over and she starts screaming. She’s still alive.
That call getting her to the hospital. She died shortly after. I remember we all went back to the firehouse. And we all sat in the same room, the day And we each grabbed a pie.
And We each sat there just with a pie.
in fricking silence.
And I just remember years later, looking back on that.
as. It was a traumatic call. But just being in the room with people with the same shared experience. I think for me was just as powerful as therapy because.
I knew if I had opened my mouth and said anything.
it would have been okay. And it would have been safe. So that was a learning. Experience of.
Sometimes just being around like-minded people
in a, I hate to fucking use this term. But a safe space and by safe space, the correct usage for the term safe space is. You are safe to express what you’re thinking. Around people who are thinking.
the same as you. Not sure if that’s how well the newer kids are using that. But that’s what I mean when I say something like that. That you’re not going to get jumped
2010 comes along. 2007 was when I had left that crazy house, 2010 comes along.
Meet a guy.
Really great guy.
About a year later
into dating. So career has really been going great.
fucking fantastic house. Fantastic guys learned a lot.
A year later, we ended up having our first wonderful child.
life I had been told, I think starting at about age 15, every.
so I have a lot of auto-immune diseases. Wasn’t expected to live past 16.
And every doctor from about 15.
forward, it said, Hey, you need to know now you’re never going to have kids never gonna have kids. Had a child was not prepared for that in any way, shape or form. So that was a big shock, big learning
Life is great and reconnect with my parents because they reached out.
When they found out I was pregnant. I don’t know what it was about having a child.
of a sudden,
when you have kid and you notice you have kids, you obtain a different level of vulnerability. And fear. All of a sudden, you go from invincible to. And I don’t know why.
Just a certain level of. insecure. Isn’t the right word, vulnerable. Isn’t the right word, but You’re mortal all
Stack: of a sudden.
It’s that realization that you’re not always going to be
Stephanie: Right. So I suddenly discover this phenomenon. Driving home. And to this day, I can’t really. Pin, what would trigger it? What will cause
Stack: it, what.
Stephanie: But driving home, I suddenly would just start to have these panic attacks.
Related to what I went through.
In my early twenties and I would feel unsafe.
And I would start crying and shaking and it would always be when driving home.
And I think it’s because. He did. On at least one occasion, try to end my life in a vehicle. And I. I’m guessing maybe it was lack of sleep, whatever. Don’t know what brought it on. Don’t know why. So this started happening. Like once a fricking tour going
Just having these sheer. I’m not safe. My child’s not safe. Panic attacks.
Because this individual knew I had a child, he sent me a text message and he said, Hey,
I can reach it, reach out and touch that kid anytime I want kind of thing. So I think that’s what triggered it. So at that point in my life fast forward a little bit had baby. Number two. And this is still going on. Career’s going great.
thing is going on that put me in a different. It didn’t ruin my life. Didn’t rule my life, but just this realization of. Hey, maybe there’s an open door there that I’m not aware of. I thought I had put all this stuff in a box, put it on a shelf.
Once my family was the missing link, I thought I
was good. Once they came back into my life. So
How am I going to get rid So just by chance, because I wanted my kids to know how to defend themselves.
As a family
started, martial arts started to do too.
And I think the first time.
I truly kicked a guy’s ass.
and it was him truly fighting me. Not.
Not trying to be nice to the girl, but I’m about to be embarrassed by a girl.
It stopped. And it never came back. Found a strength and just the realization, because for years I had these nightmares. That this individual was going to show At my firehouse or am I cademy. Knock me out cold, and then just everyone would know this whole hidden.
nobody knew what was going on.
Stack: No, of course.
Stephanie: One or two, two, people had picked up.
that there were things, but nobody knew.
what was going on in the beginning of my career whatsoever.
And just discovering that I had more power to control my destiny than. Physically then I realized was just game-changing. So once again,
I think. Okay. Everything’s okay. We’re good. Th that was truly the final door on this story. It’s closed. We’re So go forward. Life is great. Life is great. Realize my significant another my husband and I realized,
We have different goals, priorities, paths in life. And and we divorce.
At the time my babies were.
four and one, two little boys. And.
my four-year-old. I dunno where and keep in mind.
Up to this point in life.
I had always thought I was, pretty invincible, managed to beat a bunch of random illnesses managed to survive.
The domestic situation in my early twenties, crazy career, all this I’m thinking I’m good. All of a sudden, my four year old, when I would go to pick him
Stephanie: From my ex and I switched shifts. So that way they would always be someone off of the kids. Go to pick them up.
He would just start screaming. I hate you. I want you to die. And I’d have to carry him kicking and screaming to the car, get him in. In the car, he would get out of his little car seat and he would. Hey, get down into the. The bottom part of the car and just be huddled against the door and just screaming. We try to climb out the car window, get free while the car was moving.
And it got to the point where it was physically unsafe to pick And take him with me.
And the baby to the opposite.
And he just,
When I would bring him back. At night to go to work the next
You have to physically take him away from me and just screaming, bloody murder. And that was the first time in my life that I think I ever. Physically and mentally just.
Get to the point where I didn’t see my four year old.
four months. It was crazy. And then just watching my baby. Just be the opposite. And,
We’d be out walking together, me and him and playing. And he just talk about missing. His brother. Excuse me. And that was the first thing that I can ever say really. Broke me. And it got to the point where.
would go to work and I go to bed. Just, I was not. Able to function.
And that was insane to me to just.
That. That something could knock me over. And I was knocked the fuck over.
So this went on truly for
about a year, really long year. And it got to the point where my mom’s best friend. Who had always been in my life. For middle school on. So I actually, I call she was coming over and literally getting into bed with me on days when I didn’t have. My
kids. And just. Watching chick flicks all day. And it. It just was a point.
I got to a point.
of not being able to function. Which was ridiculous. Oh,
Stephanie: You’re fine.
My best friend who also does martial arts. She, and I would travel a lot to to do. She would compete And I remember we went to dinner one night with a bunch of different. Coaches.
And when I say coaches, people who have.
we were at war where our world’s actually. So some of the coaches who had the top athletes, we ended
Stack: up at dinner.
Stephanie: And I remember as we were leaving, one of the coaches looked at me and said,
You can do anything you want. In life. And I don’t remember the context of the conversation.
And I looked at him
kinda to the Cocker spaniel head cock, and He said, no, I can just tell that about you. You can do whatever you want in life.
And it’s the dumbest thing, because it’s just simple cliche coaching.
Whatever. And the guy was just saying it because it was part of the conversation.
But I just needed to hear that at that moment in my life.
and just. Called a therapist. And said, Hey. Here’s my game plan with my child. What do you think? And. The funny thing about therapists, as we all know is they, listen, they don’t tell you what to do. They listen to what you have to do. So it came up with a game plan and went through it with my kid and.
Started to find out And not knocking his father in any way, shape or form.
But his dad had started to see someone.
And she had kids. And so in his little baby mind, If he came home with me.
was going to lose his dad.
So that’s where we work.
So finding that out.
Just moving forward was night and day. And two. That was back in.
And now I’m just. Night and day difference.
a solid. Year of just bouncing things off a therapist, but. We are we are in an amazing place now. But that situation. Taught me about therapy.
And I will. Trying to find the right way to phrase this. We all need therapy. And we all need therapy at different times in our lives, but I will absolutely say if you do not know what to do.
In life. Call a fricking therapist. Because this therapist didn’t tell me anything. I didn’t know. She just sat there and she listened to me.
Verbally talk through a problem of what could be causing this child’s behavior.
And then from there I went and, was looking up and then I thought. Oh, maybe this is going on. And. And doing a little bit of digging, found out. Yeah. That’s what’s going on and okay. From there, I can start to heal this child’s problem. So life gets good again. Get transferred to
Because I wanted to be on a different shift than my ex in 2018, at the same time that I’m figuring things
Stephanie: Get transferred to the house Absolutely amazing hysterical individuals.
And once again, I think everything in life is
And life happens.
One day I was, a 2020. Yeah, 2020. In September, driving down to Roanoke for a union event. Oh, this is a delegate for the state convention.
Driving down there. I get a text from my dad. And he says, Hey, I’m really sorry about. And
one of my two best friends from birth.
And I called him and I said, what are you talking about? And I’m really. Sorry. I thought, I thought her mom had already called you. She passed and it turns out you’re older than me, three kids.
She had, they found her passed out or.
Deceased in a parking lot.
Turns out. She had a congenital heart defect that nobody knew about Since we were kids.
and just. Passed away and my amazing, significant other.
dealt with me that night, having the breakdown of a lifetime. And I remember the next morning. Woke up. Cause we had to go. To union stuff. Woke up.
The longest hottest shower I could. Dumped my face in ice and covered my face in.
Like a deep puffing caffeinated, eye cream. the fuck out of my skin.
And I went down there and.
I acted like nothing had happened in
Stack: Literally put it in the face,
Stephanie: Put the face on.
acted like nothing had happened in life.
And went about my life.
And this has happened. I’ve lost.
a couple people very close to me. One of the, one of the guys who really stuck up for me at that. That house with crazy captain. He passed away from cancer.
Unexpectedly, and I never went to his funeral.
never went to his grave site and it really hit me. With this death. That what we do as firefighters.
Because it’s necessary. We need to, we have to have this life skill is we ignore it. We work through.
it. We move past
We put it in whatever little box we need to put it in to run But then we never go back to that little box.
Stack: Very rarely.
Stephanie: We never peak under the lid and say, Has this been all folded and neatly taken care
Because we think so getting out of that weekend.
Stephanie: Spend a night crying whenever I’m good. I’m fine.
Stephanie: The next thing comes along, which was.
So my mom’s best friend who I’ve, who I call mom. She passed away from COVID.
But that one was rough to watch.
because that was 30 days of.
Her being when they finally woke her back on intubated, her.
And she was just on C-PAP.
She was just hypoxic as fuck and paranoid texting and all that.
And so that was truly watching someone die for 30 days. And that was rough.
And then once again, my mom.
Same thing. So get through that situation, very traumatic for everybody and take
Firefighter role with the family of being the strong one. And I remember my mom.
about logical mom. She said, Hey, have you cried yet? And It took me like a year to cry. And That was when I realized. You are never going to handle things. In a healthy way. Because.
Because of your career, unless you.
stop, drop and roll. And make some changes.
So here I am. About to be in my forties.
20 years at 19 years into a career. What healthy handling of things looks like. And I just. We talk about therapy. We talk about. Mental health. We talk about peer support. We talk about all these things. But really what it comes down to is. It’s a backup a little bit. The IFF teaches a class and it’s.
It’s something outside.
Of their behavioral health as well.
It’s a suicide safety
And what it teaches you is if you’re having those suicidal thoughts. I
find something that you like to do to distract yourself, play the guitar or whatever. And then if that doesn’t work, call someone on your safety plan, you don’t have to tell them what’s going on. But you call someone. And then the next step.
I think was leaving the house.
and I believe the next one is you call someone and you tell them what’s going We all need that. In our lives. Period. Regardless, we need a safety plan for how we are going to handle. The bad calls. And our home life. Because what this long rambling story has, is proven. Hopefully. Is that the two bleed into each other?
You cannot leave family life at home. You cannot leave what is going on 20 of the days that you’re not working. At home and then expect those 10 days or more. Man, no days. That you work.
To be okay if you’re not handling things. Properly back home. And then those 10 or however many days you are working. If you’re just putting something in a box there to be able to function when you’re getting You’re just creating this whole vicious cycle.
So what. I have really been working on, I think over the past two years has been.
What are my actual.
what am I actual limits?
If going home and working
Stephanie: Doesn’t cut it. Where do I go from there? And just creating this whole little. Plan for myself. Fast forward to.
Sometime within the past 365 days.
stupid happened at work.
My better half who’s he’s a battalion chief somewhere else. So
He looks at me with a critical eye. He does in a. He doesn’t give me a pass on anything. Something happened. And he said, Hey, you really need to go deal with this. This was. This was not okay. And I remember in that split second when he said that thinking maybe it’s my fault. And I thought, fuck.
Stack: Right back to
Stephanie: Why are we back so I texted a good friend of mine.
Mike Wells. He A lot of the peer stuff. Para pure sport stuff. Cross-country and I said, listen, Not going to get into it tonight. Early twenties, domestic situation. Thought all that was gone but here And he said, all right.
What their bus number do you want? And I said, Nope. I said, I’m not ready to go to therapy right this second, because I don’t know. What’s behind those closed doors.
I said, but I’m telling you now, If I start to regress. You are in charge of. I’m saying, Hey, there is not an option. And when I say I’m ready. Then you can help me pick up, pick a therapist. So he’s phenomenal about every couple months saying, Hey, where are you? And are you ready?
And I think that’s important. I think the other part of the equation we don’t talk about is. Therapy’s great. Go to therapy. But if you are not at a place in life where you can go to therapy.
Have a game plan.
You don’t have to go to therapy right then and there. But have that plan. For this isn’t okay. This is never going to go away.
How am I going to deal with it? The next time it pops up?
And whether it be, you just tell someone.
or whether it be. You pull that pin and you say, all right, we’re going to therapy. You at least have that plan. And same thing with the bad days and with the calls it’s. What’s my plan. I go home.
I don’t feel like I can tell my other half working out didn’t work. What’s my next step. That didn’t work. What’s my next step. I don’t think we teach people going into this career.
How to have a broader plan other than suck it up or go talk to.
we don’t. We definitely
Stephanie: We don’t talk about that. It is personal accountability. You have to, in order to survive and to do your job and to be your strongest and to be your best, because that’s what you signed up to do.
You have to take accountability for how you’re going to handle the bad shit.
Because we are going to see and be expected to handle the bad shit. We think.
we’re invincible, but if you look at any elite team, team seal team, whatever those team. Leaders. Are in charge of monitoring their people and looking at them and saying, Hey, who’s not mentally ready. Who has a tooth infection? Or who’s going through a divorce. These things can get you pulled off.
A mission or a call-out or any of those things. And we. R I think the only. Elite. Type of career.
You to saw the worst thing of your life.
Hey, you need to go to therapist everybody. Okay. No, but there’s no. Hey, Dee. Did you get it taken care of by the way? We’re four days later. Are you still okay? Are you still
And we can’t necessarily do that. So you better have a fucking game plan and place. For policing yourself, because that is part of our responsibilities.
So that’s it. That’s the whole it’s a continuing story.
40 years are about to hit. So we’ll see what happens in the forties.
Stack: I like That’s
There’s so much in there. We could have taken each story. And we could’ve gone down. A couple of paths from each story.
Stephanie: run with it. Go down a path. If you need to.
Stack: It’s interesting because I’ve had these.
Stephanie: I had discussions
Stack: I think everything that you’ve talked about, You’ve talked about your experience as a female in the fire service.
The rough, how that is and how there’s been changed, but there’s not complete change.
from that experience for women in the fire service. You talked about loss. Loss of loved ones you’ve talked
The domestic situation, which I’ve obviously talked about on the show before. You’ve talked about.
Stephanie: All of
Stack: Everything you’ve talked.
Stephanie: Talked about, has been as a, been a
Stack: Theme, somewhere along the line in the show.
Stephanie: Well, I think
it’s important to an add kicked in and I didn’t say this, the reason
That I did want to share. This is because my life is not necessarily abnormal in any way, shape
Now granted, does it happen to everybody? No, but elements of my life, especially loss. Issues
All those things are common.
Divorce. All these things are common. And it’s something that, especially as firefighters, I feel. Is more common in many ways and hits us harder and differently, especially loss because when we have a loss happen, We try to treat. Treat it like we’re on the job. And you can’t do that.
Not mourn a life that was close to you.
but I think the first instinct is to not to. Not to mourn that life because.
You just, you don’t want to open that door and go down that road of starting to have
feelings, my story is common. And it’s something that. Co-mingles horribly with our job.
Stack: I think that. your point of. My outside How it affects my job life. It’s not my outside life for some, my job life.
It’s my life.
And that’s what we, like you say, we failed
That we failed to see that we’re humans outside of this job where humans inside of this job. And would that same human would those, all this. All these experiences flooding in from.
From home from
maybe a second job from the job from everything. It’s all flooding in. And we do shut it down.
And we shove it and We shove it and we shove it and we shove it and.
that’s where I, you’ve got to a point where that’s what you’re doing. That’s where I was, six months ago I was doing the same thing. And it’s recognizing, wait a second. It’s not the job that’s really doing as much damage as. As everything else is on top of it is doing the damage.
Stephanie: It’s a complete picture. And we can’t continue to and apartments are getting
We’re getting better about creating better systems in classes.
But you cannot pigeon hole it.
into, Suck it up.
or a therapy.
It’s just, it’s much more complex.
Stack: Not only can you not do that, but if you are doing that, you’re complete irresponsibility and you are the problem.
Stephanie: Wait, we won’t touch. And that mentality, but
Stack: anyway, I’ll touch it. I don’t.
my department didn’t like me much anyway, so it doesn’t
Just slide that one in there.
Stack: The other thing, the one thing I really want to hit
I I talked about this the other day with somebody, women in the fire service.
Angle, it needs to be spoken about.
still, and it needs to be put on blast in a sense.
Because it’s still happening.
and that’s why I said, wait This thing hasn’t completely changed and it’s happening in big departments.
Females are still putting up with.
Stephanie: So your union Mitch NAISA and I did a podcast, I think. Probably about a year ago now where we. I talked about this We were guests on someone else’s show. And I told a story. And I said, By the way. This was within the past year. And the look on Mitch’s face was priceless because.
This was a year ago. So that would have been.
20 20 20, 19.
ish. And it’s no things do still happen.
I will say what has gotten
some departments have gotten better?
But I think what has also gotten better is guys in the firehouse. And that was actually the point I was trying to make on that entire podcast was. What’s the repetitive thing in. My story here today. You know what. Excuse me, what took me? Down the right
Road. So many times was.
Stack: and the firehouse.
Stephanie: attention and saying This isn’t acceptable.
This isn’t okay. We’re going to gather around you. And we’re going to make sure that the right thing is done.
And to this very day In in my career.
watched that still happen.
As something went And it was actually with a male coworker and watching.
just gather around him. And say, no, we won’t accept how you’re treating. Or a coworker.
Get the fuck out. If he can’t treat him correctly.
then you’re not welcome here. So that’s always, what’s going to make or break.
Fire department fire culture.
fire service takes hundreds of years to change.
what we can change.
at a much faster rate is.
What shouldn’t need changing? What should already be happening?
Everybody should be watching.
out for everybody.
Stack: I agree with that.
Not everybody is obviously.
it’s funny, You mentioned Mitch cause.
I’ve asked Mitch to come on a show with me and he’s.
more than willing and we’re going to set that up, but it’s going to be a panel.
A panel discussion I wanted to talk about changes. And where we should go as a fire service, where we should go as, as a department.
Not necessarily to department because I don’t want to be department specific.
So you and I can talk about that.
Cause I think he might be a good addition to that.
She knows from your comment, that things aren’t changed, haven’t changed completely, but he also. Knows from people in my department have told him, Hey, we’re still here in the department and you know what? I pick up my phone and, oh, good. There’s a Dick pic. I didn’t ask for this, but it’s there.
And there’s the request for, Hey, you’re going to send me nudes.
And it’s there. It’s constant it’s every day for women in the fire service And people don’t realize this.
Stephanie: So I remember.
2007 or 2008. I was having issues with someone and they were from another department.
But with the very unasked for Dick pics scenario. And I finally just one day.
it Was exasperated.
and I said something to to our driver.
Who’s probably about 15 years older than me. And he looked at me and he said,
either you figure out how to block that phone number. Or you tell that person to fuck off. Or I will go tell the captain. And he said. And in career to career, we’re going to, we’re going to deal with that.
So back then.
You could block some on your phone So I had to call.
at T and pay to have this number blocked, but he gave me.
of safe option.
To do what I needed to do and realize that it was the right thing to do. And once again, Watching out for each other.
Now should I have been getting
that unasked for Dick plate back in the first place?
Stack: The fucking issue.
Stephanie: But for every negative I have run into. The amount of positive. From my coworkers. Has been twofold.
I will say
that is I have run into some Incredibly stupid shit.
But the guys around me.
an undersold Under the threat of having their career damaged.
Some of the stories I could tell you out of that one firehouse. Are ridiculous. And But
under the threat of.
Hey this could affect my own life. My career, my pay.
They stepped up and they did
the right thing anyway. And I’d be interested to hear.
If females in your county are saying the same thing. Yeah. You know what? I deal with some stuff that’s pain in the ass every now and then.
But if I look
to the guy on my left or my right and I tell. Them. Hey, this is going on.
They’re going to guide me or they’re going to step up for me or they’re going to do whatever it is. And I hope that’s the case.
Stack: I hope so,
too, but I know for a fact that in our
Stack: The females are still dealing with. A lot of unsolicited and unwanted. Innuendos and pictures and comments. And it’s just, it’s ridiculous.
me, it just blows me out of the
And It actually took me
by surprise. that It’s happening as often.
Stephanie: And that’s where policing.
Comes into play, not just stepping up for each other, but okay. When you see the dude next to you. Doing something stupid. You tell him to knock the fire off?
Stephanie: Hey, this isn’t the time This is a place where we’re professionals here.
Why are you with someone? do that to Your sister or your mother?
or your daughter? And I know we always say that
as a cliche, but
Stack: It’s a good barometer.
Stephanie: It’s a good barometer.
Stack: damn Good barometer.
So we’re going to talk about a different show after we get off air here. And I’m glad you brought
Stack: But, my last two questions. I’m going to ask you again. I want to Everyday care and you can use the same everyday care if you need to. I don’t care, because we talked Me on your show and I’ll link to your show in the show notes. But what’s your everyday care. What’s something you feel naked without if you don’t have it.
Stephanie: Actually we just talked.
About it. When I walked into your place headphones.
I absolutely have to have.
Sometimes I can get.
when, and we all do when we come off duty. And our brain is fried. I just worked at 48 hour shift. I. Didn’t know how to tie my shoe when I got off duty. And being able to create.
A silent or calm space. Is really nice when you’re trying to get your brain
Just when you’re wandering around.
if You can have music.
in and just make it a little bit more of a relaxing moment is also.
A nice little
moment of therapy for me.
Stack: So headphones. I like it because as when you walked into the house, I had an ear.
I had an ear pod in and you didn’t even know I was, I had it in at the time. And yeah, I obviously do the same thing now. All right, so let’s go with a book.
your book recommendation.
Stephanie: when you and I did my show together,
I told you. it was John Steinbeck’s
Travelzoo Charlie, since we did that show.
I went back and started to reread.
travels with Charlie, which I’ve been reading since I was like 13 years old.
Stack: You posted it on Instagram.
A couple of weeks ago.
Stephanie: Just reminded why that’s my favorite book?
It is just a fantastic. Book.
Stack: So we’ll stick with travels with. Charlie.
Stephanie: It’s always going to be that answer
Stack: Perfect. I
will link that into the show
Stephanie: and. I have not read anything new since, because I’ve been rereading that. So apologies. I don’t. I
Stack: No, I don’t think you have to apologize. You read what you want to read
It’s a personal choice,
So all. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Stephanie: Thank you for doing that. Thank you
Stack: in blind
And you took over. He was uh, it was uh, it was at times a heart wrenching story, but a very good story
Stephanie: The blind thing, a joke because I have an eye
Stack: No, I wasn’t even gonna mention eyepatch until I posted the picture, which will probably be later today. .
Just so people can see it.
Stephanie: Thank you for creating
this this space where those of us who are old and about.
to leave can drop a couple nuggets of wisdom.
Stack: wisdom. Yeah, I appreciate you coming on. Thank you very much.
We’re going to talk again.
Thank you. All right. We’re out.