Local firefighter says PTSD a big, unspoken issue

Nearly a year and a half ago, longtime Frazee Firefighter Scott Geiselhart locked himself in his auto body shop, pulled out a gun, put it to his head and pulled the trigger.

Nearly a year and a half ago, longtime Frazee Firefighter Scott Geiselhart locked himself in his auto body shop, pulled out a gun, put it to his head and pulled the trigger.

“But I heard the click….it didn’t go off,” he said, shaking his head in amazement. “I know that gun. It works fine. It fired every time before that and every time after.”

Geiselhart was left baffled and scared. For years, he had progressively gotten short-tempered, angry and verbally abusive.

“I was yelling at people, yelling at my family…” said Geiselhart, who feared he had a split personality, and it was his family who took the brunt of it, including his two sons.

“I mean, it was bad...not physically, but the yelling and the things I was so, so bad.”


Geiselhart says he was having horrible nightmares every night.

“All the stuff I saw with car accidents and extractions, I’d put way back into my brain and never bring it out, but when I went to sleep the nightmares would come through and flash in front of me,” said Geiselhart. “And I’d just come unglued.”

Then there was the meth.

“I started doing it to stay awake so that I didn’t have to close my eyes,” said Geiselhart. “Then I started doing it every day, every hour. I was trying to kill myself with meth. I just didn’t want to hurt anybody anymore.”

That’s when the mechanic and firefighter locked himself into his shop with his gun and in a single misfire moment, got a second chance at life.

Geiselhart believes divine intervention saved his life that day, and he was determined to find out why.

As his non-typing fingers flew across the keyboard in search of answers following his suicide attempt, he found them.

“I had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and I didn’t even realize it - my symptoms were right there,” he said, adding that it had progressively gotten worse with every tragedy he responded to over a 15 year span.


With the answer sitting right in front of him, he saw hope.

“There was a cure,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling to know that.”

That cure didn’t come overnight, and Geiselhart still struggles with aspects of the PTSD, but he’s got a new lease on life. He quit the drugs and hit the streets.

“I’ve been talking to different groups about PTSD and suicide...I can’t shut up about it,” smiled Geiselhart, who says his life has been completely turned around since getting treatment.

He is set to tell his story at the Fire Chiefs Conference in Duluth this fall, because according to Geiselhart, he is far from alone in his suffering.

“They’re not training firefighters about PTSD, and the’re not debriefing enough,” said Geiselhart. “We see a lot and go home after that, and we’re supposed to go to sleep next to our kids and family and put it away and not bring it up. We’ve got to unload, and not on our families. We’re supposed to be tough and absorb all this, but it doesn’t work; the macho stuff’s gotta go - it’s not cool to wreck your family.”

Now, Geiselhart says he has guys calling him all the time to talk about their issues, and he feels like he’s been able to be a “stepping stone” for many of those first responders to get the help they need.

He takes every opportunity he can to talk about the issue, and with September being suicide prevention month, Geiselhart is set to make another local appearance.


Surviving to Thriving

When Geiselhart spoke at a suicide prevention seminar in Frazee earlier this year, it was deemed a success that drew in a couple hundred people.

Now, the Becker County and White Earth Mental Health Collaborative is teaming up once again to put on a similar seminar in Detroit Lakes on Wednesday, September 9 at the Holiday Inn, beginning at 7 p.m.

Geiselhart will be one of the presenters, as will Hailey Jutz, whose father, Chad Jutz, committed suicide.

Other mental health crisis experts will also be on hand to talk to the public about what can be done to prevent suicide.

“Because suicide really is 100 percent preventable,” said Tanya Carter, who is the crisis coordination for the White Earth portion of the WE/Becker County crisis response team. “Somebody will be there to talk about the signs and symptoms and resources and self care... how we can take care of ourselves when we’re feeling this way.”

Carter says she thinks most people would be surprised at how prevalent suicide issues are in this area, as her team responds to anywhere from 15 to 30 calls every week from people needing help through their crisis line. Out of the over 600 calls they received last year, she says crisis team members responded to over half of them in person.

“We’ll go to people’s houses, to the Walmart parking lot...wherever people need us to go,” said Carter, who says people who are suicidal will call, as will family members, friends and parents calling about their children. The calls made to the crisis team, which is 218-850-HELP, are confidential.


Getting word out about resources like this is one way members of the Mental Health Collaborative hope to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts.

The “Surviving to Thriving: Suicide Awareness and Prevention” seminar is free and open to the public.

“Everybody should go,” said Karen Crabtree, manager of social services and community ed at Essentia Health, which is part of the collaborative effort. “It’s a great opportunity to learn about what’s happening and how people experience it.”

Crabtree says the Becker County and White Earth communities spend millions of dollars on being reactive to mental health issues every year.

“And so if there’s a way that we can all be more aware and know where our resources are, our whole community can do better,” said Crabtree.

Wellness in the Woods

Within one hour, local people can be educated on how to save a life from suicide. The QPR (question, persuade and refer) Gatekeeper training is also free and open to the public. The training, also sponsored by the Becker County and White Earth Mental Health Collaborative, is set for Sept. 10 at M State.

The training focuses on how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help. The training is geared more towards health care professionals, but anybody in the community is welcome to attend.


There will be seminars put on at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

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Paula Quam joined InForum as its managing digital editor in 2019. She grew up in Glyndon, Minnesota, just outside of Fargo.
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