Toronto firefighter pens memoir about life and challenges on the job

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WATCH ABOVE: A retired Toronto firefighter is sharing the highs and lows of fighting fires in Canada’s largest city. Shallima Maharaj brings us his story – Nov 10, 2020

For 32 years, Bryan Ratushniak dedicated his life to firefighting and to helping others. Now retired, he has put pen to paper to share his story.

In his memoir Aftermath: A Firefighter’s Life, he delves into the highs and lows of fighting fires in Toronto.

“I got on in January ’85 and it was a macho industry. You know, ‘suck it up, kid,'” he said.

“The older guys, a lot of them were alcoholics, and I just thought ‘what’s the deal?’ It wasn’t until years later that I heard the world self-medication.”

Ratushniak said he was labelled ‘moody’ as a child. As an adult, he was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Read more: PTSD program for B.C. firefighters, first responders facing funding crunch

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At the time, he was separated from his wife, unable to see his children and working long hours on the job.

A self-described introvert, he resorted to drinking alone as a means of escapism.

“I had a subway suicide where there were body parts, and then I had a fire over a restaurant where there was a close call with an electrical explosion,” he recalled.

“That same weekend, we had a fire — Broadview and Dundas — where we were doing a search in the attic, and I became lost in the smoke and fell through a hole.”

Rather than call out for help, he made a different choice.

“I decided that my kids would be better off without their dad because there would be a health insurance payout. So I sat there, suspended in this hole in the ceiling and I just closed my eyes and I was going to let the air run out of my mask so it would be suicide by accident.”

Read more: Report finds first responders experiencing PTSD rates similar to combat veterans (2016)

Ratushniak was rescued by his colleagues and transported to hospital. He underwent physical therapy and began seeing a therapist.

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When he returned to the job, he said colleagues walked on eggshells around him. Eventually, he became a source of information and reassurance for members experiencing their own issues.

“If you have a broken arm, you go to a doctor, you put a cast on it. If you have mental health issues, you go to the doctor, and have those mental health issues dealt with,” he said.

“But people can’t see those mental health issues. They think you’re okay and sometimes, you’re just not.”

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