The latest edition of Blowin’ Smoke features a good friend, Jerry Meddock. I first met Lt. Meddock and his wife at an event hosted by FirefighterWife.com in the hills of West Virginia. I was able to spend quite a bit of time with them throughout the weekend, and I could tell how passionate he was about the job. He is one individual that truly cares for others, and strives to make the fire service a better place.
Jerry Meddock is a Lieutenant and serves as the Chaplain of Bethel Township Fire Department in Medway, Ohio. He also is a Level Two Firefighter and an Advanced EMT and assists with Chaplain duties at The New Carlisle Fire Division in New Carlisle, Ohio. Both departments are Part time/paid on call and cover. The city department is located within Bethel Township. The township is located between Springfield, Ohio and Huber Heights, Ohio just minutes north of Dayton, Ohio. The township spreads over 38 square miles and has a population of just under 20,000. The Bethel Township Fire Department responded to over 2100 calls 2014 and The New Carlisle Fire Division responded to nearly 1300.
Chaplain Meddock began his career as a Paid on Call Level One Firefighter at Bethel Township in 2003 before gaining his EMT-B certification shortly after in 2004. He advanced in his career by being promoted to Lieutenant and gained his Advanced EMT and Level Two Fire. He served as a Captain at Bethel Township for two years before personal reasons led to him resigning that position. After experiencing many tragic calls and attending some Critical Incident Stress Management Debriefings, Lt. Meddock recognized the need for a Chaplain Program at his department. He then approached Chief Jacob King who totally agreed. Shortly after Jerry was on his way to taking multiple Critical Incident Stress Management classes and Chaplaincy classes. He was officially appointed Chaplain of the Bethel Township Fire Department on September 11, 2002. Along with seeing the importance of CISM and having debriefings for department personnel after critical incidents he was selected in 2002 on The Southwest Ohio Critical Incident Stress Management Team in which he still serves.
Chaplain Meddock is also a member of The Ohio Federation of Fire Chaplains and Federation of Fire Chaplains. He became an Ambassador and Instructor for the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance in 2015 and a speaker at the FBHA Suicide Survivor Retreat which was held in Savannah, Ga in May 2015. This retreat was held to bring together families of our brothers and sisters that have died by Suicide. Jerry is also a Suicide Survivor after losing a friend and Coworker from Suicide in 2002. This has brought a new understanding for him to bring light to the Mental Health aspect in the Fire and EMS service.
Chaplain Meddock lives in New Carlisle, Ohio with his wife of 4 years Jennifer and their blended family of four children, Emma, Jordan, Rebekah and Tyler. They all keep busy by tending to The H.A.R.D. Acre Farm, a working farm for adults with Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Chaplain Meddock enjoys Fishing, Hunting, and spending time with family.
How many years have you served in the fire service and has/is anyone else in your family on the job?
I have been in the fire service for 12 years which also included working in the private ambulance business for over 10 years. I have a cousin, Kenny Miller, who served as a Cadet, then as a Firefighter at the Bethel Township FD. He left the department, but knew it would always be in his blood…so he wanted to go back. This is how I began my career due to me telling him if he re-applied, I would put my application in too. He and I still currently serve Bethel Twp and he has obtained his EMT-B and Level Two FF.
What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service?
I worked in the retail business out of High School for over 10 years and wanted a career change. I have always been compassionate towards other people and wanting to help them in whatever way I could. With the motivation and opportunity that presented in the above question, how could I pass it up? I thought there is no better way to help people then working at the Fire Department and have the potential to save lives and property.
Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference to either the fire service as a whole or the community you serve?
I grew up in the community that I serve and have lived in it for my entire life. This alone brings on a passion for the job and to help people that I may have went to school with or sometimes that are my family. This can at times be tough to handle when tragedy strikes. This is just one of many ways that I’ve been shown the Mental Health part of our profession is very important and should not be overlooked.
This has led me to become and Ambassador & Instructor with Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. I feel this organization is a great way to make a difference in Firefighters and EMT lives utilizing a resource that many don’t know about. FBHA has workshops such as “Saving Those Who Save Others” which is a Suicide Awareness and Prevention workshop, “A Firefighter’s Life” which educates EAPs, Chaplains, Clinicians etc to better help them understand the attitudes, emotional behaviors, addiction problems that Firefighters may experience on a daily basis. Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance also has a workshop to train Fire/EMS departments how to set up a Behavioral Health program and what policies and procedures they would benefit from. More information on these workshops can be found on the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance website www.ffbha.org or by contacting me at email@example.com.
Do you currently have any specific personal goals you would like to accomplish during your career, and have you completed any of those already?
I feel that I have been very blessed in my career and the opportunities that have been placed in front of me I have been very thankful for! I have been able to reach goals and I have more I would like to accomplish. Working with FBHA I and we as an organization have a goal of getting more focus on Behavioral Health brought into the Fire Academies. In the Academies I attended there may have been just a few minutes to touch on this and there is a definite need for more. I also have a goal to visit as many fire departments across North America to better educate my Fire/EMS brothers and sisters about Mental Health and Suicide Awareness and Prevention.
A personal goal I have is to one day by a Chief in the fire department of the community which I’ve grown up in. I am also excited to help my wife reach her goals with The H.A.R.D. Acre Farm which has also opened up more goals for myself to better educate myself on how to interact with individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?
The biggest changes I have seen have been with the advancement of the equipment and gear that we use. I have also seen many changes with the tactics being used and the studies that have been produced on transitional fire attack. I believe this is a great way to keep us safer on the fire ground and I have witnessed very positive results from using this attack method.
In another ten years, I would love to answer this question by the progress we have made in Behavioral Health. Just like the Fire Attack methods and strategies it is taken some time to come a long way so I am confident with the help and push of organizations such as Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, NFFF “Everyone Goes Home”, National Volunteer Fire Council Share the Load, CISM Teams, Chaplains we can make this happen.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?
I think one of the biggest challenges the fire service is facing today is the transition of Firefighters from Volunteer to Paid. One of my departments is paid Part Time for a 12 hour day shift and the other is a paid staff 24 hours. At both of the departments we truly rely on our Paid on Call Staff. The Paid on Call Staff numbers have been dwindling over the years making it difficult to staff the stations on some nights. Volunteers, Paid on call staff are still a very valuable resource to many departments and with funding limited in some areas it worries me there may come a time when those wanting to participate on that level will be gone.
During all of your years on the job, how were/are you able to push through the darkest of times?
I have faced some dark times in my career which have been a push to make me the person I am today. If it wasn’t for being involved in some of the experiences I have been involved with I am not sure I would be who I am now but this all was in God’s plan for me. I have been through divorce, death of family and friends, and seen things most would believe humans should not see.
I have been able to push through by knowing there is always a better purpose I am placed her to serve. I have also became a huge advocate of self-care. We have to take care of ourselves before we can even begin to take care of someone else.
Training is very important to assure our Firefighters are proficient with their skills and the jobs we do. I have also started to become better about the fitness aspect and becoming more healthy and fit. With Heart Attacks being the number one killer of Firefighters it is important we focus on our cardiovascular health more.
I do believe that our physical health is very important but I also want to add that we cannot forget about our Mental Health. Have you ever thought there are also Firefighters and Emts that are dying in the “line of duty” due to Mental and Behavioral Health problems such as PTSD, Depression which lead to Suicide? There were 87 LODD deaths reported in 2104 with what we know is 100% reported. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance validated reports of 104 Fire/EMS personal that died by Suicide in 2014 with what we believe is only 25% reporting. More information can be found at www.ffbha.org. That gives you something to think about I’m sure. Everyday there are Brothers and Sisters of ours that are not going home because they have taken their own lives. They are not to be forgotten!
If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom” what would they be?
My words of wisdom for the younger firefighters would have to be this. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out for help if there is a call you’ve been on that is bothering you mentally. It is ok to talk to someone about it and let your feelings out. I have learned in my career that it is never good to pin up these emotions inside. I always compare this to a wound on your skin. If that were to occur you would treat it right? I’m sure you would wash it off, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and bandage it. If you didn’t do this the potential for infection would be greater. Same thing, If there is a wound you are carrying around in your mind, from something you’ve witnessed on a call or even something that has happened in your everyday life experiences the risk for infection is great if it is not treated. Please don’t let that infection occur or fester up! Don’t let the “cultural brain washing” of the Macho Fire Service mentality keep you from seeking help. It is a very courageous thing to reach out when you are in need. I mean that’s what we do right? We help those who are in need so we have to remember to help ourselves when we are in need and know that is ok.
Your careers are important so keep an eye on each other and be there as the Brotherhood when the times are tough and we really need each other.
What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?
I was not allegedly involved in this prank but it was told to me by a Probie recently in a department to remain unnamed….Wink Wink if he happens to read this. He was telling me about putting straight bleach on the toilet seats. There were a few of the members that were in on in but the Shift Commander was not of course. Needless to say the word is that Commander was walking around with an Itchy butt all day and couldn’t figure out what was going on. Pretty good one I must say.