By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , /

Well in the 30 years I was on the
department, this this ended up being the big one. It just filled me up overwhelmed
me. Ward Redwood is a captain with the Grand
Prairie Fire Department. Post-traumatic stress disorder nearly cost him a
30-year career. That’s why he’s decided to tell his story starting with the
night of the crash. It was a sight pulling on scene there was a
truck upside down in the middle of the road and it was running and it’s a
diesel truck so it’s sitting there running and just adds to things. The
pickup had collided with the car sending it into the ditch two teenagers were
dead. A third boy was seriously injured in the passenger seat. There was no sign
of the pickup driver. Redwood was using a thermal imaging camera to search the
scene. As I’m moving it a white image appears on this on the camera and it was
just like I still remembered it was this like this whole adrenalin thing went
through me and it was just like my brain said that’s a deer but I knew it was
another boy. Redwood ran to the boy’s body lying in the brush off the road but
found no pulse. I know I’m I’m worked up adrenaline’s just pumping through me I’m
and I know that I still got a job to do right I found one. I’m like I got to keep
looking and it was within three four seconds I got another white signature on
that on the camera. Four boys, two 15-year olds and two 16-year olds died in that crash on October 22, 2011. Grand Prairie rallied behind the
family and friends of the teens but Redwood tried to navigate the aftermath
alone. Back in the day that’s all we did is with any trauma event like that is
this pushed it down tucked it away didn’t think about it didn’t talk about
it. His marriage fell apart after the crash. He became a single dad. Life moved
quickly in the crash faded to the background. That is until a nightmare
brought it roaring back five years later. The nightmare was wicked. It was really
threw me. It was like these two boys faces looking
up at me from from down below and I was leaning over them and I had my
flashlight. Kind of felt like something was wrong but couldn’t put a finger on
it. After the nightmare he froze up twice on the job while using the thermal
imaging camera. It felt like he was caught in quicksand a psychologist told
him it was workplace stress and too much coffee but things only got worse from
there. Sleepless nights short attention span,
memory problems. I was treading water a little bit you know. I wasn’t really
doing a good front crawl. Someone might get up and go gone. My enjoyment of
things was starting to disappear a little bit. Redwood finally got a PTSD
diagnosis and soon after the therapist said he was going to have to tackle the
big one. I know what the big one is. I just don’t want to deal with it right. Any
stress response there when you’re pointing the camera? Therapist Steve
Buckle in Grand Prairie used prolonged exposure therapy. Redwood told the story
of the crash over and over again. At times holding the camera he used to find
the bodies. Take the tech camera and go up to Fargo and command. The therapy
was grueling recording the sessions and listening back to them. He was warned his
symptoms would get worse before they got better and they did. That part had
concerned me for quite some time is you know a big one right the feeling and
love had totally gone away and I had no feeling of love for quite some time like
years. On the seventh anniversary of the crash another nightmare except this time
instead of the two boys, it’s his two daughters looking up at him.
And this one throws a switch in there. That one’s a hard one to
tell anybody about. Certainly can’t tell my girls but I suck it up and I get back
in there and we start getting at it and you know things just started to get
better and they didn’t get worse. A few sessions later with Buckle from the
layers of his subconscious he unearthed a new memory from the night of the crash.
I get up to go and grab the medic and and then I’m like whoa. I’m like low
Steve. Steve I said I throws up and he’s like what I said I froze up on scene and
the memory came back to me that I had froze up that same feeling that
quicksand feeling I had actually did it on scene and I’d repressed it. I didn’t
even know I didn’t had no memory of it whatsoever and it all of a sudden came
back. I was having a little trouble and I went and got some help. He could feel a
change in himself he was going back to the fire hall to have coffee with the crew.
But he knew things had really turned a corner when he dropped his youngest
daughter off at her mom’s just two weeks later. Go to give her a hug before I
leave and I have this full-on feeling of love for
her which I haven’t had for years. Right it freaked me out and
it was like, I didn’t say anything to her because she didn’t know that I didn’t
have it. I never told them that I didn’t have it.
Redwood went back to the fire hall part-time but he had a choice to make.
Return to full service at the risk of more trauma or retire on his own terms.
I’m happy. I’m healthy. I’m really enjoying life. To me it was just time and
hopefully we’re smarter in the future and look after ourselves better. I know
we do. His last official day as a firefighter was on November 20 but
he hopes his story will be an example for all first responders especially the
thousands struggling with PTSD. It was emotionally draining and it was
physically draining was every part of me hurts sometimes coming out of those but
it gets better. You just got put in that hard work I
hope they hear that and ask for help.

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