Retiring? What’s Your Emotional Plan?
May 19, 2015
By Jeff Dill, Founder, Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance
Reprinted from the NVFC Helpletter
Three hundred and forty-three days until retirement! The countdown is on … Does 26 years of being a firefighter just end? What does the future hold for me? What do I do when I am no longer connected to the brotherhood? Or my community? Will I lose my identity? Will I lose who I am?
These are the types of questions that each firefighter or EMT will face as they head into retirement. You are given a symbolic token for years of service or perhaps a party to recognize your dedication, and then what? Welcome to retirement!
Yes, the countdown above is for this author. My question to all of my brothers and sisters in the fire service: Are you ready and have you planned emotionally for the disconnect?
As a career Captain, licensed counselor, and founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA), I have found through meeting thousands of firefighters and EMTs across the U.S. that many have not planned for what happens after the fire service. Our approach to retirement needs to be addressed because there are serious consequences to ignoring this need. An alarming number of firefighters and EMTs lose themselves in addictions, depression, PTSD, and unfortunately suicide once their fire service career is over. The FBHA has had numerous reports of firefighters who took their lives days or just weeks after they retired. Fire and EMS organizations across America need to be proactive in preparing their firefighters for retirement.
One of the greatest issues for those retiring or who have already retired is the loss of identity. We have been associated by a bond that few professions in society will ever understand. For those switching careers, we quickly find our culture is vastly different from the business world. For volunteers, responding to the needs of the community creates a tremendous amount of respect and trust, plus the self-satisfaction of helping others. This bond dissolves when we leave the service, and if the retiree is not prepared it could create serious behavioral health issues.
Another issue that must be addressed is the fact that even though our time in the fire and emergency services has ended, the numerous images of accidents, burn victims, children dying, violence, and death are not left at the firehouse. These are images we will carry with us for a lifetime.
So what can we do?
FBHA recommends that fire and EMS organizations address retirement through the following action plan:
- Create a retirement committee: This can be done in conjunction with several fire departments, with each organization having one representative. When a firefighter or EMT announces their retirement, the committee sends them information on what steps to take to prepare for retirement.
- Training: Find workshops on emotional retirement planning for personnel reaching their retirement. Covered items should include career planning and counseling, starting a business, schooling, and identifying/developing hobbies and other interests.
- Pre- and Post-Retirement Counseling: FBHA recommends marriage or couples counseling about six months prior to retirement. Not only will retirement be a major change for the individual, but for the spouse or partner as well. FBHA would like to see organizations offer post-retirement benefits through their Employee Assistance Program or outside resources. If members struggle with depression, addictions, or PTSD from the tragic images they collected in their career, then counseling would be a tremendous retirement benefit. In addition, if the member is considering suicide this will give them an option of turning to someone for help.
These are just a few recommendations. FBHA presents a more in-depth look at retirement planning and training in our workshops. For more information or to contact FBHA visit www.ffbha.org.
In 2011, Jeff Dill founded Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (www.ffbha.org), a 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to educating firefighters on suicide prevention and awareness. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in counseling, is a licensed professional counselor, and is a retired Captain at Palatine Rural Fire Protection District in Inverness, IL.