2003-06-13 / Community

Support Group for Firefighter Families

By Elizabeth Roth
Support Group for Firefighter Families By Elizabeth Roth

Everyone knows that firefighters are under tons of stress on the job. The danger of entering a burning building, the long hours, the horror of seeing their fellow human beings burned to death, or experiencing the trauma of losing their loved ones. All of those things add to stress and depression.

There is another group of people who are under stress, however. That group includes the firefighter’s families.

For that reason, the Counseling Unit of the FDNY is running a program designed to help. It’s called "The Other Side of the Firehouse," and it’s a support group for active duty spouses and significant others. The intention is to give the people behind the heroes a place to relax, make new friends, and talk to others who are in a similar situation.

The idea was started by Angela Coyle, a therapist who works with families, treating post-traumatic stress disorder in abuse victims. Her brothers are firefighters and, in November of 2001, a conversation with a sister-in-law gave her the idea of starting a support group just focused on spouses.

Coyle started the group with one firehouse in Manhattan, and when forty women showed up, she realized there was a genuine need. In January she took it to the Counseling Service Unit, and running the program has become a full time job. Now there are meetings by borough, so that even if there are not enough women from one firehouse to start their own group, those that are interested still had a place to go.

Mary Cash, who is married to a captain in the NYFD, loves the program. "It is so important to feel that whatever is happening, it is not abnormal to be afraid. We’ve been traumatized." she says.

She says that meetings vary in attendance, and that some include children, but the focus of the group is undoubtedly the women. "The guys can sit around in the firehouse at the kitchen table and talk about some things. But the girls are too spread out." Cash explains.

The program is not the only one of it’s kind. Father Emile Frische has started running retreats aimed at boosting peace of mind in the families of firefighters.

The slogan the CSU and Coyle are using to promote the "Other Side of the Firehouse" is "It Takes A Hero to Love a Hero." Maybe it does. The contact number for more information is Jason Leahey at 212-570-1693 or to www. nyc.gov/html/counseling/csuosf..html.

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