Have you ever wondered what kind of person can run into a burning building to rescue total strangers, somebody’s pet, or a scared child hiding in a closet; to care so deeply about their safety to disregard his or her own? I had the opportunity to meet a retired firefighter recently. He is tough as a bull, the mindset of a warrior, and a soul of the angels he carries on his back. And even though he is retired, is actively trying to save lives. Not in his firefighter uniform but in a way he never thought he could.
In 2017 this retired firefighter was asked to help a brother in need diagnosed with cancer. Let me be clear on this, the cancer this man had was a direct result of his job. This strong-willed bull of a man spent the last days of his fire hood brother’s life caring for him only to learn right before his brother’s passing that he would be leaving his family in financial debt and was embarrassed that he spent all those many years in a courageous job only to be kicked to the curb when his cancer diagnosis was given. With no resources, many families not only lose their loved ones but the financial security they relied upon for their years of service.
The bull of a man began to ask around, talked to others in the brotherhood community. He learned the raw truth that the life he thought was a personal struggle only he knew was a struggle in a community of silent men and women. The fear of cancer and the high rate of suicide for first responders lays heavy on their minds. Never voicing their fears to each other, whether it be physical, emotional, or financial.
This sparked the “March of the Bull.” https://twitter.com/thebullhill89 Tom “Bull” Hill began his journey from the “0” mile marker in Key West to the steps of the Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Florida. He walked alone for most of the miles through the Keys, feeling discouraged and overwhelmed he kept his promise to his brothers and kept moving. #Keepingshakeyspromise.
Bull’s journey was met with opposition. He was told to leave it alone. He is not the kind of person that follows the rules. Even though they were working on making the Presumptive Cancer Law; Bull knew had to pass for his fellow firefighters to receive the care and benefits they are entitled to.
He kept walking with the 87 shields, badges, and names of lost firefighters on a single backpack. Along his way, he was given shields from others that heard of his journey through social media. Family members met Bull and told him their story, thanked him for his strength and courage, and gave them the one possession that touched Bull's heart, their shields.
However, when Bull arrived at the steps of the Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Florida, he realized his job was not done. The bittersweetness of accomplishing this goal only brought future fights to raise awareness and keep the conversation alive.
Bull now has 21 backpacks adorn with pieces of love from family members he carries to his seminars and walks. They are displayed with care and respect and most people stand in line to volunteer to carry a backpack on any walk Bull participates in.
In October 2021 there was a study called “Firefighters Fatalities in the US in 2020,” by the National Fire Protection Association, “NFPA”. In this study, they reference the deaths caused by various reasons including COVID-19. Thus, for the next few years numbers from these studies will be skewed based on the pandemic. That stated, it does address the long-term effects of physical and emotional health on firefighters. It also states that many studies have proven that cancer is well-recognized as a significant cause of death in a firefighter’s career. 117 cancer-causing deaths were reported to NFPA for this study. This study does not address the number of firefighters currently battling cancer.
NFPA reported 97 firefighters and 26 EMTs died by suicide in 2020. The importance of suicide education and prevention is becoming a conversation that should not be overlooked in any situation of programs that involve the stressors a firefighter endures. https://www.nvfc.org/ is one of the sites listed in the report as support systems for suicide prevention.
Now this bull of a man has made it his life’s mission to keep the conversation going. He travels up and down the east coast giving seminars and standing next to his fellow firefighters when needed. He does not want to be called a hero or get the accolades of his mission. Because he wants the names of the people, he represents to be the heroes that gave their lives and should not be forgotten. For more information on Bull and his journey go to: https://thefirehoodfoundation.org/
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