After years of coming upon traumatic car accidents, it started to wear on Frazee firefighter Scott Geiselhart.
“The car accidents got to me. I did a lot of the extrication,” he said Wednesday afternoon, sitting in the auto repair shop he owns in Frazee. “It affects people a whole lot more than we realize.”
And after 19 years on the force, he has seen a lot.
Gieselhart started having nightmares and drinking to forget. Then four or five years ago, he said there was a bad car accident that was the “final straw, put me over the edge.”
He pulled away from everyone and buried himself away in his shop. On the outside though, he seemed fine. He said he was able to put up a good front, except at home.
“I was yelling at the three people I loved most,” he said of his girlfriend and two sons. “I was a real jerk.”
Geiselhart will be sharing his story at the Frazee Community Education sponsored “Light Beyond the Darkness” suicide prevention program, set April 9 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Frazee Event Center.
Other speakers that night include Hailey Jutz, who lost her father to suicide and will talk about how the family left behind copes; Jode Freyholtz-London with Wellness in the Woods; and Amber Nelson with the Becker County Crisis Team.
Geiselhart had a life-changing event happen one night at his shop. The demons he faced nearly swallowed him for good, but it’s a story he’d rather share in detail face to face, which he plans to do the night of the April 9 program.
That night though, he realized he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even though he had always thought that was something only soldiers suffered from.
“People told me I had PTSD, but I didn’t hear them,” he said of encounters prior to that night in his shop. Once he read up on the subject though, he realized “there’s a way out of this; it can be fixed.”
He contacted the organization Share the Load, and says, “15 seconds after calling and I knew I would be OK.”
He went for treatment in Fargo and took part in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
“My mind didn’t process (the accidents and trauma) like it should have. It got confused and messed up,” he said.
After treatment, Geiselhart said he’s a completely different person since the end of August of last year.
“I couldn’t stop smiling, I still can’t stop,” he said, with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes.
Geiselhart said he experiences feelings he’s never felt before, sees colors like he’s never seen before and tastes foods like he’s never tasted before.
“Even tears are great,” he said with a laugh.
While his past has damaged some relationships, he said he’s not ashamed of his past and things will heal in time. For now, he’s happy being happy. And he’s happy to share his story with others.
He has been speaking to other rescue personnel about his PTSD and possible effects they could be experiencing as well.
All his life, Geiselhart said he grew up with God in his life, but since being diagnosed and getting treatment, he can’t stop thanking God for the second take on life he’s been given.
“I wish I could bottle this up and give it away,” he said of his happiness. “It would cure cancer,” he added with a laugh.
Pre-register for this session with Frazee Community Education at 218-334-3181, option 3. There is no charge.
In mid-June (date yet to be determined), Frazee Community Education will be hosting a second program on suicide awareness.
Mark Lamplugh is a part of the Share the Load Program and also a former captain with Lower Chichester Fire Company and a treatment consultant/first responder specialist with American Addiction Centers in Florida.
“The brotherhood we share is unparalleled in any other profession,” Lamplugh said of just one of the many rewards of being a firefighter. “We sacrifice our time, family, personal relationships and family to be part of the fire service. Helping firefighters who are having issues in their personal lives has been a 24/7 job for me.”
He said that instead of answering his pager for a fire in the middle of the night, he’s answering his phone to help firefighters and EMS workers in distress.
Lamplugh is a part of the Share the Load program, which is a joint effort between the National Volunteer Fire Council and American Addiction Centers to offer a free 24-hour hotline for firefighters and EMS nationwide.
“Being part of this effort has been humbling to say the least,” he said. “This effort is filling a much-needed gap in the fire service, trying to save the lives of the people who work every day to save others.”
Though the date hasn’t been set yet, call Frazee Community Education to be placed on a notification list. They can be reached at 218-334-2525.