Former firefighter teaches lessons on managing PTSD
A hero is defined as ‘one who shows great courage,’ and few careers exemplify that more than firefighting.
“I just fell in love with it, and that was my goal from being a little kid until I became an adult and finally became a fireman,” said Brian Cristofono, a former firefighter.
Firefighting was in Cristofono blood, and Monday morning in Brooklyn Center, he had the opportunity to speak to a group of people in the profession.
“My uncle told me if I wanted to be a full time firefighter to become a paramedic,” he said.
For 13 years, the Plymouth resident got to live out his dream of being a firefighter and paramedic with the Mdewakanton, Maplewood and St. Paul fire departments.
“It was a dream come true,” Cristofono said. “I wanted to be busy. I wanted to get all the fires. I wanted to get all the medicals, and I became an adrenaline junkie.”
It’s a job that requires strength and tenacity, but what’s often forgotten is that first responders encounter people on their worst days, and he says they’re not trained on how to process it.
“The most horrific things you can imagine, we see it, we deal with it,” Cristofono said. “After ten years on the job, I lost my family, my family fell apart. I got divorced. Found myself having panic attacks on the job and could no longer do it. Drove me to the point of almost suicide.”
Cristofono eventually retired in 2016 after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Now, he’s on a mission to talk to other first responders about the importance of getting help.
“I feel it’s extremely important for everyone to hear the message of what Brian has to say,” said Gary Hendrickson, Brooklyn Center’s deputy fire chief.
Hendrickson asked Cristofono to hold a seminar at the Brooklyn Center fire station Monday morning.
“As a leader within the organization, we need to encourage our firefighters to basically understand that this could happen to you,” Hendrickson said. “And if it does, here’s some resources for you to deal with it at hand.”
Cristofono says he’s getting the help he needs, but during his talks, it’s evident that there are issues that he still deals with to this day.
“There’s five line of duty deaths of guys I knew, and three of them were suicides,” Cristofono said. “And that’s kind of a big reason why I do these talks, too.”
The hope is that by getting his story out in the open, others in the profession won’t suffer the same fate.
“It might help. It might save their life,” Cristofono said. “It might save their family. That’s what I hope.”
Meanwhile, Cristofono is also helping a state lawmaker with a bill that would make it easier for first responders who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to receive workers compensation.
Aside from holding the seminars for first responders, Cristofono is back in school, where he’s studying to become a registered nurse.