GREENSBURG – Fire Chief Nathan Stoermer brings a unique perspective to being a published author and public speaker; he is a suicide survivor.
In the November 2019 edition of the firefighting industry online and print periodical “Firehouse,” Stoermer talked about a sensitive subject in an industry where mental health is not easily discussed. The article is titled “Health & Wellness: Positive Mental Health Culture,” and in it he talks about the effects of stress on his life as a career firefighter.
“I worked with a group who I believed were great people; however, they were negative. They thought the worst of people, including patients and co-workers, and never could look at the good in situations.”
He continued by saying, “Working long hours with no breaks and a lack of leadership continually fed this negative culture… We must vastly improve, not change, the culture so the premise of behavioral wellness in the fire service is accepted.”
Stoermer offered events in his own life for consideration.
“Back in 2009 I attempted suicide, and I kept it quiet for about 5 years. For personal and professional reasons, I was at the cup ran over point, and that was my way to push the reset button on my life. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are where I was then don’t realize that pushing the reset button is usually permanent.”
After sharing his story, he received offers to write and speak on his experience.
“I wrote it from the angle of needing a mental health program for all firefighting departments, realizing that it’s OK to speak up about issues we all deal with like addiction, anxiety, alcohol and drug misuse, depression, traumatic stress, relationship issues and suicide, to name several. As a firefighter, we see things and sometimes are thrown into the tragedy of other people’s lives, and that’s not easy to deal with,” he said.
Stoermer said he has learned such feelings aren’t unusual.
“It’s OK. It’s normal. No one is perfect. We must normalize being able to talk about these issues openly and candidly without fear of stigma,” he said.
In the article he argues that such a change is necessary from the top down.
“Without a sincere, honest and caring leader, this process will go nowhere. A leader who serves the membership must be willing to have these important but uncomfortable conversations,” he is quoted as saying.
Stoermer said making the transition form speaking to writing articles was difficult, having written only technical articles before.
“I’d published articles that had to be written per a specific structure, so it was interesting having to discuss something concerning emotion,” he said.
Stoermer participates in the Executive Officer Firefighter program sponsored by the National Firefighter Academy, a sub-department of the Office of Homeland Security and FEMA, and is required to publish once a year. He’s written so far about suicide, tornado shelter, and in 2019, about stress and suicide in the fire service.
He repeated the saying, “In the fire service we hate two things: the way things are and change.”
“Maybe we don’t have to change, but we do need to show a little more compassion,” he said. “We don’t always have to show the world the Superman or Superwoman persona,” he finished.
Stoermer’s article can be read online at www.firehouse.com/safety-health/article/21155333/health-wellness-positive-mental-health-culture.