Captain Scott Wetherholt, a 22-year veteran of the fire service says every firefighter has that call that stays with them, “I can ask any firefighter right now what was their worst call and they can recall it within a few seconds and it’s that vivid image that will never go away that you know can bother them down the road.”
For this Cal Fire captain, his was a call on the 10 Freeway in Palm Desert that started out as routine, “2013 July, 5, my engineer was killed on the roadway … witnessing a fellow brother in the fire service die in your arms was one of the worst things and nothing we ever want to see and it was very vivid,” he says adding that call turned into a personal nightmare, “I turned for the worse, depression really kicked in, I, you know turned to chemical dependency, I lost my marriage in the meantime.”
He says he hit rock bottom, “I contemplated suicide, I talked about in my mind driving my car off a bridge.”
Batallion Chief Steve Diaz who runs Cal Fire’s employee support services says it’s not easy for firefighters to admit they need help, “They are the helpers they are the public servants almost to a fault.”
And while more is known today about PTSD in first responders, just knowing that more firefighters are lost to suicide than in the line of duty is tough to swallow, “It makes me angry because that doesn’t have to happen, it makes me feel as though we’re not doing enough,” says Diaz.
Diaz is the one who reached out to Scott on dark night and got him the help that saved him, “And I‘m thankful to this day that Steve reached out because I really think I probably wouldn’t have been here,” says Scott.
Now Scott makes himself available to fellow fire service members who are in a place he knows all too well, and hopes by opening up about that time will help one brother or sister reach out before it’s too late, “For me, if I can save one out of 100, I‘ve accomplished my job.”
Diaz says there are many services for first responders, but they need to reach out because taking that first step can save their lives.