By ALLIE LEWIS While most of us will be lucky enough to only experience about three critical incidents in our lifetime, firefighters and other first responders could experience as many as that in one day, according to Scott Robinson. Robinson has been
While most of us will be lucky enough to only experience about three critical incidents in our lifetime, firefighters and other first responders could experience as many as that in one day, according to Scott Robinson.
Robinson has been with the Cranston Fire Department since 2000, and in that time he’s responded to thousands of calls, though the one that’s shaped his life above all others has been the Station Nightclub Fire.
The trauma of that night is something Robinson carried with him for a long time, and it took him more than a decade to process it all. Had he known then about the ways in which trauma affects first responders, or the tools and resources that are out there, Robinson wonders if he might have been able to process that night sooner.
“While some calls we’re able to process pretty quickly, others may take a while to really get your hands around, and put it in its right spot,” Robinson said. Thinking back to the Station Nightclub Fire is still upsetting, “and I may cry talking about it, but it doesn’t ruin my day like it used to. It doesn’t take over me like it used to.”
Calling upon the tools and resources he’s gained during that time, both in his role as President of Cranston Firefighters IAFF Local 1363 and Vice President of the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters, Robinson heads into the next chapter of his life with hopes of arming other first responders before tragedy strikes.
Last week, Robinson announced he’ll be stepping down from these leadership roles, and taking on a new role with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) as a behavioral health specialist.
His goal is to educate firefighters and first responders about mental health and physiological responses to trauma before a potentially traumatic event so that they’ll “have an idea that those are normal reactions to abnormal events.”
Knowing this doesn’t just make it easier to process, but hearing it from a fellow peer goes a long way in helping other first responders know they’re not alone in the way they’re feeling.
In his new role, Robinson will help coordinate with local unions across the United States and Canada to provide resources and training. He’ll also be working with local unions to develop policy and contract negotiation, to make sure there are mental health resources in place.
Mental health resources, he said, are incredibly important in this line of work. Especially when considering statistics over the past several years, which show a higher suicide rate among firefighters than deaths suffered in the line of duty.
In a field that “runs the gamut of crisis and disaster,” arming first responders with the tools for resiliency is essential to their overall wellbeing.
“That’s why we have classes on resiliency, because we have to find better ways to build resilient firefighters against the stuff we’re running into and seeing,” he said. “Whether it’s pediatric calls, or a fire call, or horrific car accidents, unfortunately we see things people shouldn’t see. We shouldn’t see these things, but that’s our job.”
When first responders have the tools they need, when there’s someone there after a bad call, it not only helps to destigmatize mental health issues, but also helps prevent one call from ruining their lives.
The Cranston Fire Lieutenant said he’s looking forward to embracing this next chapter of his life and following his passion for providing peer support. He can confidently step down from his leadership positions too, knowing that he’s leaving those roles and responsibilities in the capable hands of Armand Niquette.
“There are so many people to thank, so from the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for the support you entrusted in me all these years,” he said.
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