Welcome to episode 19 of the 911 Shift Ready Podcast. We lost an officer last week. He was leading a training course. He went to grab a coffee for everyone that he was teaching and he was shot from behind while he was waiting in line at the coffee shop.
Being a first responder, it comes at a very high price. And one of your colleagues pays the ultimate price with their life. The ripple effect is felt far and wide. And every death be it line of duty death, suicide or health related from the job, it deserves to be given the respect and recognition of their time spent serving.
And when there is a first responder funeral, you all show up and give your support physically in person, if possible though, you are all there in spirit. And that is where we see the power of the bond that you do all have with one another. I would like to thank each and every one of you who did reach out to send their condolences and make sure that myself and my husband are okay, as well as to share your memories of colleagues that have passed in your service.
I really, really appreciate the support. Being a spouse who works with first responds, at time I feel like I don’t fully belong as I don’t wear a uniform and do what you do each and every day. Well, I also don’t belong in the civilian world as my life at home and in my work and my job is completely immersed in your world.
And its death in particular did hit me hard from both the emotional and the operational side. I’ve seems so many posts from my husband’s service, neighboring services offering for anyone who is struggling to reach out. And they mean what they say. None of you, none of you want any of your colleagues to struggle.
The problem is, is that no one really explains what struggling means and what support they offer. And when I think of offering help to someone struggling in a post that is also referring to the murder of an officer, I think that they are referring to something on the mental health side especially because mental health seems to be the main buzzword for all of the struggles that first responders experience.
But what does mental health struggles mean? The word mental health, it’s just such a broad word. And one that I feel is quite often overused and it also has this negative connotation where I instantly think that if I say I’m struggling mentally that there’s something wrong with me. And in fact, everything that happens in our body happens because something has a scientific reason. And if there is a scientific reason, there’s a scientific solution.
So why does that mean that there’s something wrong with me when I don’t look at having a disease, having cancer as being wrong with me in the same way that I would look at having something mentally. So the faster that you can figure out the reason that the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, elevated heart rate, hypervigilance, depression hold towards certain substance abuses and the list goes on then the faster that we can really dive in and find the solution.
If we think of it like this, there’s a couple of ways. I like to kind of think of this is a computer uses lines of code that sends signals to elicit a command. When a line of code is damaged or it’s broken, the command gets messed up and the code needs to be fixed. So the programmer goes in and figures out where that line is broken. Fixes it, debugs it, whatever has happened. And then the code can work the way it was designed again.
And if we think of this as well, like our cars. So in that example, that’s very similar to our bodies. We also think of it like a car car was designed in a way that when you turn the key, all of the parts, they know what they’re supposed to do. And when a car is not driven, the way that is designed, it’s pushed beyond its means or not maintained the way that the manufacturer suggests then warning lights come on giving you signals that the car needs some maintenance and repair.
When you ignore the engine light, hoping that the problem will just go away then most issues they tend to pop up and the car eventually breaks down and you have a bigger problem on your hands. So why should we look at our mind and our body as any different? When our body is using emotions, anger, hypervigilance, anxiety, flashbacks, in order to send the signal that something is off isn’t that similar to an engine light?
And when your body is physically telling you that it needs some TLC might be having sleep, gut issues, blood pressure, blood sugars, cholesterols messed up, and your body may not be able to heal and repair as quickly as it used to. Isn’t that also what the warning alerts are telling you? My wish would be for us to stop putting everything under this mental health umbrella and start talking about situations that you actually experience on the job mentally and operationally. And what symptoms may come up?
Along with solutions to give you support through all of that, to push through each and every shift. The more educated and aware that you are about how your body reacts to certain situational operational stressors, the faster that you will start noticing that engine light. That signal from your engine light and the better you will also understand solutions.
So that you can get in there, do some diagnostics, do some maintenance and repair before the problem gets worse in order to stay operationally strong for your entire career. And my hope is that this podcast, this entire podcast, not specifically this episode, will do just that today. What we are going to do is help understand about this colleagues of my husband’s death, his murder. And we’re going to talk through it a little bit so that you can understand from a scientific point of view, the symptoms that may occur. And understanding what’s going on scientifically and figuring out what the solutions are.
So, as I mentioned, this officer’s death, I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but this officer’s death. It did affect me more than other deaths that come across my desk or that I have experienced in my husband’s service. And have you actually ever wondered why one death may affect you more than another? If I didn’t understand why or how this death was affecting me, I know that this would fester in me.
This week alone, I have struggled to focus in the office. I’ve tossed and turned more in my sleep. My HRV which is the measurement of your stress in your body. My HRV declined slightly, which means my ability to handle stressors decreased. Had I really not been tracking my stats and understanding what was going on and that these symptoms were related then I may not have noticed how much this death was affecting me.
And each of these symptoms was mild that I may not have been able to put that puzzle piece together and realize that I was more affected by this death than I have by others in my husband’s service. I also would’ve assumed that I really just needed a little bit of a break to grieve a little bit and then I would be okay. But if we go back to thinking about your car, if your engine light is signaling you that something needs your attention and you ignore it then the issue in your car increases. Right?
Your symptoms as well, and your body increase the more that you ignore them. So that’s why we often hear stories of responders noticing who have PTSD. And they speak about their PTSD on how it was only about six months or so after a call, when their PTSD symptoms started ruling them started taking them over. It’s this subtle shift. It’s this very subtle when things start hitting you to the point where they build up enough, that you really notice them unless you know the signs.
So right after the incident with many of these responders, they just felt that they were able to shake it off. It may have bothered them. They may have done needed to do some grieving or kind of process the trauma, whatever happened a little bit, or they pushed to the side and got right back into their work. And they felt that they were okay. Had they known the signs they may have been able to catch them before things got to the 0.6 months later or longer where they eventually do get to the point a year or two later when they need to be medicaled out.
So here’s where I think it’s much easier to look at this from a scientific perspective. And I’m going to explain to you why this officer’s death hit me from a scientific point of view harder than the others have. In episode 16, you are not broken. You just don’t understand the solution yet. I mentioned how Dr. Trevor Wilkins, he is known as the Viking therapist, who through his experience with PTSD when he was a traffic homicide detective, he became an EMDR and trauma therapist for first responders in military.
So through speaking with him he taught me that when you don’t have a file in your brain for a certain situation then it can’t rest neatly in your brain. And it doesn’t like go and sit in filing cabinet where you can take it out when, where, or when you want, when you need it. It just floats around. So with this particular officer’s death, I had a few beliefs that I’ve been holding onto to help me think that my husband will be safe on the job. And those beliefs were shattered.
So I’ve always told myself that training courses were really a safe place for my husband to be. My husband’s role often has him helping at training courses and attending training courses. And I’ve always said he’s safe. I don’t even have to worry today. He’s outta training course. He’s fine. But the officer that was murdered was an instructor.
He was teaching a course that day. And he wasn’t kept safe. The other belief that I had created was something that I told myself so that I would not stress as much anytime my husband was in uniform. Multiple line of duty deaths across my social media feed a week between north America and the UK. And when ambushes of an officer increased after black lives matters, I naively told myself that this was only happening in the states and that it wouldn’t happen in Canada.
And this officer we’re in Canada was shot from behind while he was in a lineup waiting to order his team coffees. I know the research that comes out on mass murders which in my mind, I believe that that’s not far off from these ambushes on officers as well.
The work of Lieutenant Colonel, Dave Grossman on child mass murderers, there is this connection between violent video games and violence on social media. And I know that ambushes are going to rise more and more as more kids are playing violent video games. Roblox is all the rage in my kids’ genres into groups. And just this past week, my one son and I had brought my other son to his circus school class.
And while we were waiting, my son said, “Wow, that little boy, this entire time was playing violent games on Roblox.” He was waiting for his sibling and this is a child that’s like five years old. That’s playing these violent video games. And we know that from Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s work with others is that those violent video games mixed with everything they’re seeing on social media that’s violence can bring on senseless violence. Even in countries where they have gun laws, where there are no guns legally available for these kids, they find a way. So it doesn’t make a difference.
I had told myself this story though, even though I know the science even backed format, but I had told myself this story that my husband that this is wasn’t going happen in Canada. And that was just to keep myself safe. Now, I didn’t even personally know this officer. Right? And that’s the thing with understanding this from the science perspective, understanding this from this point of view is when you have certain beliefs, when you have certain thoughts, when you do not have a file in your brain for a certain situation and I did not have a file in my brain for the way that this officer was murdered, it shattered some of my beliefs.
So I know in order to give these beliefs that were shattered a file in my brain so that they don’t keep floating around festering increasing my stress system, increasing anxiety, increasing the sadness that I’ve had this week that I need to go to an EMDR therapist that specializes in first responders because of a lot of what I speak of is about a lot of the traumas that many EMDF therapists are not equipped to deal with. Then I need to go to my EMDR therapist that specialize in first responders and I need to get a file for this memory.
Now I have files sometimes as well because of what I do, I understand as well, how much sleep deprivation plays a role in your reaction times in a lot of situations that may occur on the job. And when I hear certain things a responder that was driving to or from work and has a fatal car accident, or certain altercations where anger or rage comes into a responder. On a call or at home, I instantly go to the file in my brain asking myself, what was the operational stress on this officer? Where was their sleep debt? How sleep deprived were they? So I have a file in my brain for those that as horrific as those situations and incidents are, and the ripple effect of those does affect many. Those don’t affect me as much as this one did, because I did not have a file in my brain for this.
So my engine light was giving me a signal and if I didn’t listen to it then I would probably get to the point where I was last October, where I did need to take a step back from working with first responders because I didn’t understand this enough then I hadn’t put it into play. I hadn’t gone to EMDR and worked through these things and put files in my brain.
And I learned my lesson back then that when I am exposed to something like this and it starts affecting me that I need to go to EMDR. I need to find that file in my brain. I have learned the hard way where it did take me out briefly from working with you guys. And my place is to be here helping you. So I know that that’s what I need to do to be there for my family, to be strong for my family, to not let this fester is to get a file in my brain for that situation.
And that’s why I like to look at this more from the science point of view. It’s not just black or white. Big T traumas, they’re often where we expect someone will struggle and we have thoughts floating around because they didn’t have a file for that traumatic situation. But that car engine light, that signal can get you for things that you may not have considered what the mental health industry calls a trauma, right? There’s big T traumas, little T traumas.
As it did mention in episode 16 as a child, when there were certain beliefs that I had as a child that I was not good enough because I had people very close to me been put down on a regular daily basis for everything that I did that those are not what we think of as traumas but as a child I didn’t have a file in my brain for that situation.
We can even look at this from a different point of view as well in a situation where there’s a single parent and they are always working. Or for actually any of you responders who are working a lot. Right? And you’re not able to be there at home as often from a child’s perspective, you are not there. And from a child’s perspective, if you are continually working, if you are not able to be there and give them the quality time that they need when you are home then they may feel like they were not worthy of your love. If you are giving them a different love language than they experience as well, they may not feel they’re worthy of your love.
Whereas you love them immensely but that is from their perspective and how they see it that that child didn’t have a file in their brain for possibly a divorce and not seeing you as often or not being there. There’s so many things that it is really from the perception of the individual. And that is why on different calls as well you may find that some calls affect one person but they don’t affect somebody else because somebody may have had a file in their brain cause it’s each individual perspective.
And it comes down to as well values. When your values are broken there’s moral injuries are very, very common in your line of work as a responder. And not all of you are taught about moral injuries. Moral injuries are moral traumas when somebody has gone against your values. But what is asked of some of you on the job goes against some of your moral codes, some of the things that you do have to do and you have to work that out in your brain. And if you don’t give that a file, it will float around.
And then as somebody expressed to me this week, their partner passed away from a heart attack. And as far as deaths and things that you come across in your line of work that is not what we would call a traumatic death but that was your partner, right? That was the person that had your six, you know. And for them to pass away unexpectedly, suddenly you have lost somebody who knows your every move, who you worked so well with, who you didn’t expect would pass away. And your last day with them you did not expect to be the last day. And this person was saying that they kept reliving the last day with their partner and that’s because they didn’t have a file in their brain that, that was the last day.
So small things on calls were something bothered you on a scene, that wasn’t right but you didn’t have the power to fix it, each one of these could be floating around in your brain. And the more of these that are floating around, the more your body starts asking for help which often is through anxiety. It can be through depression where your stress system actually starts shutting down. Can ask for help with gut issues, hypervigilance, always being on alert because it’s like, “Oh, there’s all of these floating around in us that we’re constantly in this stressed state”.
Anger. It can get into addictions and more. Affecting your sleep is a big one. I should have added that one. But the opposite is true if you have that file in your brain, there’s many situations on your job that are horrific. But if you actually already have a file in your brain for that they may not affect you like they would to somebody who doesn’t have a file in their brain to a civilian that was in that same situation.
So for me in my line of work, as I mentioned, that’s where like, I’m really big on sleep deprivation. I do so much research into sleep, sleep deprivation and how it affects your reaction time, how it affects your moods and most of you are sleep deprived. The hours that you work, what is asked of you operationally is a lot. And unless, you know how to adapting your body sleeping, waking rhythms, it is really hard to make sure that you are getting the best restorative sleeps possible and decreasing your sleep debt in every chance you possibly can.
So when I hear of a traffic fatality of a responder often to or from work, my brain instantly wonders how sleep deprived that responder was. And I have that file in my brain, right? So that goes into my sleep depth file. And this to me explained from that science and descriptive point of view that just helps me understand one reason. One as to why this week I was struggling with this officer’s death, more than the others. Why I had more anxiety, why I was sad more often from smaller things, not related to this officer’s death, why I tossed and turned in my sleep and why everything took so much focus and energy and time to get things done this week.
And so the other reason though, that I was struggling was operational stress. You may be asking what the heck does operational stress have to do with this officer’s murder? It actually plays a big part when it comes to the funeral and the aftermath of this murder. It plays a big part in the health and wellbeing of every single officer in your service. And not recognizing the operational stress and how it affects each responder, it can increase that ripple effect of the collateral damage from one officer’s death.
So when a responder passes, especially when it is a line of duty death, the support from each and every one of you is it’s beyond words. With such large amount of support, a lot of operational stress is felt on each and every one of you. Most services are already short staffed with responders who are already sleep deprived. Waking without energy, pushing through their day, struggling to keep calm, which usually hits first at home.
When we see it at work, we know it’s probably worse at home. They may be experiencing anxiety or hypervigilance where they just can’t shut it off, even when they’re not on a call especially at home. And they may have gut issues, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, the list goes on. And the day of the funeral, the entire station of the fallen officer and anyone who has worked with them often would like to attend the funeral. And in order to do so, others must cover further shift.
So many that are attending the funeral are coming off of shift as well with little or no sleep. And then they have to go after the funeral right into another shift. And then those covering for them are often doing doubles. They’re giving up their days off which is decreasing their time to recover. And then this results in an increase in sleep debt on all parties. Which if prior to funeral, they were already sleep deprived and post funeral they’re unable to recover then they move further into burnout, which increases their brain fog, slower processing speed, which keeps you safe on the job.
Reports become tougher to focus and remember the details and often you’re feeling like you are moving and thinking through a fog of cement where every thought and movement takes so much effort, you are exhausted just from making a sandwich from a small task like that. So doing your reports, having to do day-to-day things around the house just takes all of your energy and leaves you less time to recover and repair.
And with this more mistakes are made on the job. Anger and short fuse is on the rise at home and possibly at work. And the ripple effect is real. It can affect the safety of each and every officer involved one way or another in the funeral procession. The thing is we have not covered the planning and logistical side that goes into a first responder funeral.
What goes into a planning a funeral of this magnitude? That often requires a lot of safety measures due to who all will be there and the safety of everyone there is astronomical. This is where I struggled as my husband is a part of both planning and logistics in emergency management.
He had just come off of working 8:00 AM until 1:00 AM in emergency management for a rap concert where there were rival gang members performing both Saturday and Sunday. That Saturday and Sunday were actually his scheduled days off. So the Monday, when this officer was murdered he had worked his day without much sleep in between that Sunday night, going into his 7:00 AM start. And Tuesday, he went in early and worked 12 to 18 hour days with his team.
And then the funeral. So that was Tuesday he went in and started working these long hours again with only having one day of regular hours. And the funeral was following Wednesday. So he was going in for 6:30 AM, starts. He was in the office 6:30 AM. Sometimes not getting home until midnight, 1:00 AM. And I’m saying this about my husband because this is what I was experiencing at home, but this is a team effort.
He says that his role was a minor one compared to some others on his team. There are others that are more senior to him that have more experience in planning that we’re doing the big, heavy lifting. And he was helping out where they needed. The day before the funeral, they had to set up everything at the convention center. He wasn’t sure how long that was gonna take, so we brought a sleeping bag as he had to be there the day of the funeral at four thirty in the morning.
Helping with logistics before enduring a funeral and then they had to clean up after the funeral was over. So we didn’t know when he was even gonna get home the day of the funeral with starting at 4:30 AM. The following day was the debrief. And then yesterday he was able to work from home. So from September 5th until September 24th, he didn’t have a day off like he worked 19 days straight.
Someone else on his team had also executed a huge plan recently and they didn’t have enough time to recover before stepping in to help with this plans of the funeral as well. His team has been pushed to the max this year with a lot of unrest that has gone on, on top of their regular plans. During that time, one of our son’s birthdays happened, and that was right before the rap concert. And my husband did everything in his power to be there for our family’s dinner but then I was solo for all of the weekend birthday festivities with all of their friends.
I was home with the boys, their first few weeks of school doing everything in the home. One of our kids I homeschool while I’m running my business full time. Getting the other one to and from school. The school lost his bus form, so he doesn’t have transportation yet. We were both feeling the operational stress but my husband kept thanking me for making sure that he didn’t go into this block of shift burnt out.
Before that rap concert, he was good. His sleep was in check. He had the energy. He kept thanking me for making sure that he didn’t have sleep debt going in and he had the energy and then he knew the tools to pull out during all of these long shifts. And he had that knowledge to know what to do to stay on top of his game, as best as he could throughout. Tools that supported and fueled his stress system so that it could run strong when he was pushing it hard.
And just to note, this is different than eating healthy. As your stress system actually flies through certain vitamins and minerals and different things that we need to be supporting, so it has fuel. It’s like your gas tank can empty in your stress system. If you’re not giving it the vitamin and mineral support that it needs. So when you’re doing these long shifts, there are certain tools that he’ll take out. Certain supplements he’ll take out in order to be supporting him. Tools that help his body know when to sleep, when to wake up, helping him get the best restorative sleep with however many hours he even had to sleep.
When you are in the middle of an operational plan, you can’t stop and you can’t go to therapy. You can’t stop and prep the healthiest meals. You can’t go and work out. Right? You need tools that you can quickly have on hand. You need tools that are right there so that you can continue putting your head down, grinding out on whatever needs to be done during that operational stress.
So that you do go into these critical incidents that you can peak that you can stay on top of your game. Stay as strong as possible, as long as you have to, and then pull out your tools that you need to know that you need to have in place to recover quickly after. Like, you’re never gonna know when your next incident will occur. You don’t. For us being such a large multicultural city where social unrest in other countries often plays out in protests, here on top of the regular duties and all of these other incidents that keep popping up, my husband needs to recover fast after each one.
He doesn’t know when the next incident is going to come up. And the thing is, is as we talked about in episode 18, where we prevent December burnout now, there is a cost to everything. And with this funeral, with any funeral, there is a cost to each and every responder’s sleep debt. Now, the cost to my husband putting in the time to help to honor and show his respects to this fallen officer was a thousand percent. A thousand percent worth the cost.
He paid to his health, his sleep debt, working these hours, as well as the other costs to our family operationally and understanding though which tools he needed to stay strong decrease the cost we both paid during this incident and is allowing us today to start recovering and make sure that we are okay post incident, so that both of us are strong when my husband is pulled into another operational stress such as this.
And that’s the thing is, is really looking at the cost to each responder that is there. Some responders, it may be best to not go to the funeral and show your respects from afar in order to make sure that you are recovering quickly based on where your stress system is at. And some of you, the cost of increasing your sleep debt may be absolutely worth it in order to go to that funeral and pay your respects in person.
There’s no right or wrong answer with any of this, with all of the operational stressors, same as well for some officers or some responders to be saying no to covering shifts for those going to funeral. There is a cost to everything. And you weighing out the cost for you personally, health wise is very individual to each and every one of you.
If we think of this, like a car, every car needs to be refueled and maintain with a little bit of oil and looping going, checking the parts. If you continue to push a car without maintaining it, the car will eventually stop. The engine will stop or you know, the brakes will stop. And this long term stress that all of you endure, it can disrupt your sleep, increase your anxiety and your depression.
There are studies showing that sleep deprivation can cause suicide. And when we’re adding all of the other factors as well, that can lead to suicide in your profession. And knowing that sleep deprivation is one that you do have some control over, there are ways to get you the best sleep possible. There are ways to help you recover after and make sure that when you are sleeping or getting a good restorative sleep, instead of being tired and wired and tossing mid sleep and waking up with absolutely no energy.
Not recognizing the operational stress and how it affects each first responder and not having the proper tools to support you during each incident can increase this ripple effect. And the collateral damage from one officer’s death. Making sure that we are recognizing how much sleep debt plays a role in this ripple effect is the key and bringing out the tools to help decrease that sleep debt, sleep deprivation in you plays a large, large role in decreasing that ripple effect.
To recap on what we have talked about today, there is a scientific reason as to why some deaths may affect you more than others. Why some incidents traumas may affect you more than others, or may affect one of you, but not another . And it’s when you don’t have that file in your brain for even values or moral injuries.
If you don’t have that file in your brain for the belief, the value, the situation, then it floats around in your brain until you work on giving it a place to be stored, to be filed. And that comes with EMDR. And when that file is floating around in your brain, your body becomes more stressed and you may experience one or the following sleep struggles, absolute exhaustion, hypervigilance, anxiety, anger, gut issues, and other stress issues.
And then we also dove into the operational stress and how that takes its toll and causes that ripple effect of collateral damage in your service post incident. Sleep deprivation cannot only cause struggles with your brain focus, reaction times and moods, but it can also lead suicide. So making sure that you are using the right tools to recover between incidents and use when you are being tasked with long hours, it will help you sleep better, recover faster, stay focused, alert, and energized throughout your career.
If you would like to learn how to implement these tools that my husband uses that responders that are in our 911 Elite Performance Program uses. That is what we teach in our 911 Elite Performance Program. Go to our website 911ShiftReady.com and click on the work with us page. Now we only open a few times a year to allow me to focus on coaching those in the program.
I do need to be cautious with my time because I don’t ever know when my husband’s going to be pulled into crazy hours and I am on solo parenting and all domestic duties on top of running this business. So I only sell it out a couple of times a year, so that in between that time, I make sure that I do have the time effort, energy, bandwidth to be coaching you.
So make sure that when you’re on the work with us page, you’ll see if we’re selling it now. Or if there’s a waitlist. Join the wait list to be the first to know when we do open the doors next. That’s the 911ShiftReady.com website and go to the work with us page and sign up for our waitlist or register. Our doors only stay open for four to five days at a time while we are selling the program before we close the doors and move into coaching everybody in there.
All right. I do hope that everybody is doing okay. It’s been a tough month here for emails that tough in the way of I’ve been getting a lot of emails coming in of responders who are struggling this month, possibly more than others, or they’re reaching out more this month. This incident has, I know, hit our service and had a ripple effect here as well. And I just hope that everybody is doing well.
Understand that if your body is telling you things through anxiety, hypervigilance, moods, gut issues that there’s nothing wrong with you. These are just your body giving you symptoms. That’s giving you that car warning light. So reach out, go to EMDR, start implementing tools to get yourself back. There’s a science reason as to why this is happening, which means there’s a science solution.
So let’s continue teaching you about that in our next episodes. And if you want to dive in and really start implementing, then join our program now.