Coping When We Lose One of Our Own

Author: IAFF Staff

August 24, 2018

As a fire fighter or paramedic, you form close bonds with the men and women you work with. Over the course of long shifts, you eat, sleep and save lives together. While any loss can be difficult to deal with, the loss of a brother or sister in the fire service can feel impossible to bear.

While your grief may feel insurmountable, you can cope with this loss. It won’t be easy, and the process may be long, but you can work through your feelings and eventually move forward.  

Know What to Expect

After the loss of a co-worker, you may experience a wide range of emotions. While this is a natural reaction, these complicated feelings can be difficult to process. Over the course of the days and weeks following the loss, you may feel:

  • Denial
  • Confusion
  • Disbelief
  • Shock
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt

These feelings, especially when experienced in quick succession, can be dizzying to deal with. You may think that you’ll never feel normal again. However, it can be helpful to remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is normal. Processing grief is difficult, and one way to move through it is to accept your emotions as they come.

Talk to People You Trust

You don’t have to bear the burden of this loss alone. You may be able to hide your feelings from those close to you for a time, but keeping them inside might make the grieving process harder. Reach out to friends and family members who are compassionate and caring, and tell them how you’re feeling. Whether you talk about your pain or share stories of your fallen co-worker, leaning on a loved one during this difficult time can be enormously healing.

Take Care of Yourself

It can be easy to lose sight of your basic needs when you’re mourning. While grief can feel all-consuming, it’s important that you continue to take care of your physical and psychological health. Make sure you eat regularly and get enough sleep. Avoid drugs and alcohol as much as possible. While these substances can bring temporary comfort and relief from grief, their use can also have unintended consequences and make it difficult for you to return to a healthy routine.

Be Patient

Don’t rush your grieving process. It might take you months or even years to fully cope with the loss of a co-worker. You may always miss them. Allow yourself the time to fully mourn them and experience any difficult feelings as they come.

Fire fighters on large cranes in the air putting out a fire

Grieving the loss of a brother or sister is difficult. If you’re having trouble adjusting, the IAFF Center of Excellence is here for you. Whether you struggle with a substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or grief, professionals at our IAFF member-exclusive Center understand what you’re going through and are eager to help. Reach out to a representative today to get started.

We can help. Call 240-545-5141 or

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