Today on The Fire Protection Podcast, Drew sits down with Nancy Carbone to discuss what’s going on in the Friends of Firefighters organization. Friends of Firefighters is a non-profit dedicated to providing critical mental health support to firefighters in the FDNY.

In the last year, the requests for services have increased dramatically, as Nancy explains. In a post-COVID-19 world, the challenges facing firefighters and their families have only continued to increase. And as Friends of Firefighters and other organizations have worked to “smash the stigma” around mental health and seeking help, more firefighters and family members are looking for support.

“There isn’t a firefighter on this planet that isn’t willing to put his or her life on the line to save someone else,” Nancy says. “And we need to be there for them if they have a hard time.” She shares their organization’s plans for expanding into different states and regions to provide critical services to firefighters across the country and how the organization has evolved over time.

Listen to today’s episode to learn more about their work, and donate to Friends of Firefighters: https://friendsoffirefighters.org/donate-nf

  • 00:11: Introducing Nancy Carbone from Friends of Firefighters
  • 03:13: The toll of 2020 on first responders’ mental health
  • 05:10: Friends of Firefighters’ services inception
  • 07:50: Video clip highlighting the importance of mental health support
  • 10:46: Resilience needed in firefighting and mental health needs
  • 14:54: Discussion on global mental health issues and societal changes
  • 16:53: Concerns about lithium-ion battery fires’ impact on firefighters
  • 18:55: Nancy shares celebrity support and funding needs
  • 21:25: Expanding mental health services for first responders is emphasized
  • 23:11: Addressing challenges in meeting increased mental health demands
  • 26:08: Details on how to donate and commitment to free sessions
  • 28:00: Conclusion

 

Full Transcript

Drew Slocum:

This is episode 55, the Fire Protection Podcast, powered by Inspect Point. Today my guest is Nancy Carbone. She’s the executive director of Friends of Firefighters nonprofit based in Brooklyn, New York. Nancy’s been on the podcast once before, probably I think it was in 2020, in the midst of Covid. So she came on and gave some updates on Friends of Firefighters. We’re dropping this podcast on Giving Tuesday, which it’s a big day for nonprofits out there. A lot’s been happening over the last few years with friends of firefighters. They’ve expanded their services. They have a huge need for the firefighting community and New York City and beyond New York as well. They’ve been asked to go after different areas of the country as well. So yeah, really cool to see what Nancy and her team has done over the last few years and what they’ve been up to. So yeah, with Giving Tuesday in Spec point, the Fire Protection Podcast are going to be matching donations up to a certain amount to Friends of Firefighters. So please, if you feel entitled on Giving Tuesday or up until the end of the year, please support Friends of Firefighters. I think it’s a great cause in the Fire Protection community, and they really do help out a lot of mental health awareness, even physical awareness of the firefighters and even their families. So yeah, really cool to have Nancy on and see some updates. So onto the podcast and like, and subscribe, enjoy.

All right, we’re here at the Fire Protection Podcast. I forgot what episode this is, but we’re in the, I think the 54th or 55th episode there. Nancy, we haven’t seen you in a few years, so welcome to podcast. Nancy Carbone, executive director of Friends of Firefighters, near and dear to my heart and my family as well. We’ve shared a lot of things in Brooklyn over the years. Welcome to the podcast again.

Nancy Carbone:

Thank you. Thanks for having me on again.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, I think it was 2020, about three years ago we did this, something similar. It was definitely a different time back then.

Nancy Carbone:

I think it was a year that we all just threw away our watches, our clocks, our calendar, and just waited. Just waited. And it’s funny because I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I don’t have total recall of that year. We each had our own concerns and the overwhelming, staggering number of fatalities, certainly here in New York City, and they were felt by everyone, and not the least of which are our first responders. So it was a tough year.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, I remember having was still working at the Sprinkler Association and talking to the FDNY, and it was crazy what was happening. And I remember they had their inspectors just, they’re building inspectors we dealt with and they were just on the street handing out masks. And I was just like, this is a crazy time that I don’t know, people didn’t know what was going on. And anyway, it’s a forgotten year. There was

Nancy Carbone:

Discord. I think that because of the division, and it isn’t two sides, there’s like six sides, but there was misinformation being distributed, there was emotions were running high as our first responders are responding to all of these. Unfortunately, a lot of DOAs, too many, and I mean once too many most of the time. But they also had to struggle with their own families and what was happening and were they bringing it home. And of course, in many cases they did because of what they do. And then they did go home, unfortunately. And some families got made hard. And again, this is to say there’s no way out of that. I do know some people that rented campers, for instance, and stayed on their property to see the kids through the glass, but they couldn’t go near them. Very tough times. And I think that it really has made an indelible mark on the fire department, certainly. And their children. We’re seeing more children more than ever.

Drew Slocum:

That’s crazy. So for people that haven’t listened to the last episode, you want to give a quick synopsis of Friends of Firefighters, and I’ll show a nice clip you guys have come up with as well.

Nancy Carbone:

Okay, sure. Friends of Firefighters, I started this immediately following nine 11. So in 2001 I went up to Engine 2 0 5, ladder one 18. Some people are familiar with the picture of one 18, the rig going across the Brooklyn Bridge with the towers in the background. They lost eight members of one 18, and they were very generous in allowing me in the house to help them out in the capacity that I could at the time, which really at the time was finding bunting for the firehouse, finding a bugler for the funerals. And around Christmas time, I was asked by them, at which point we were friends, good friends. They asked me if I would open up a counseling center. I’m a mom, I’m not a counselor, but moms get things. I think that boys or your wife is getting things done. And so by March of 2002, we had our first place and the firefighters came from the site, which outsiders call Ground zero.

They came from what was then a pit, and they came over and built it out. So for me, that said they really need it, that they were doing it themselves. In 2009, we opened the old firehouse that we were lucky enough to come into and we rent this space, we don’t own it. I wish we did. And over 400 firefighters came to renovate it, turn it back into an old firehouse. So there’s a comfort level here. Primarily what we do is counseling. We have other services. We have acupuncture or Reiki, financial guidance, and we help families through things like Hurricane Sandy. We were out in the field helping to pump the water out of the homes and gut the homes and coordinate work teams to go out there. So we remain flexible enough to help the members with what they need. And this is for FDNY firefighters, active and retired.

Drew Slocum:

Oh, wow.

Nancy Carbone:

And their family, I can’t believe I forgot that. And their families and families is very important. Yeah,

Drew Slocum:

Yeah. Especially these days and a lot of the after effects. So no, that’s a great synopsis. You guys created this great video. It was at, my wife runs this Cause Marketing Summit and she had Joe, Joe is your chief of staff.

Nancy Carbone:

Yes. Joe Gorman.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, Joe. He presented and it was a great presentation and a great video, which hopefully this works. We’ll see with my technology prowess here. If I can show this video here, so

Joshua Calacanis:

Bear with me

Drew Slocum:

Here. There it is.

Joshua Calacanis:

I was involved in a fatal fire 2018 where we lost Mikey Davidson from Engine 69. I didn’t go and get myself checked out mentally after that fire, I went right back to work. Now I really understand what Friends of Firefighters is all about because I’m in therapy myself.

Joe Costa:

The mission of Friends of Firefighters is to provide counseling and therapeutic services for firefighters, their families, and to encourage them to come in and de-stigmatize the process of opening up and discussing your feelings and emotions and traumas. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

Nancy Carbone:

We are the only organization of its kind. I actually think firefighters across the world could use something like this where it’s confidential, it’s free, it’s unlimited, which means you don’t just 12 sessions and then move on because you are done. It’s on an as need basis.

Joshua Calacanis:

There’s some sort of a release if you’re hurting or maybe something’s bothering you. You come here, you have breakfast with the brothers and you just talk it out.

Emmett White:

There’re a lot of different ways that you can treat yourself better and receive mental healthcare. And it doesn’t all have to be some super heavy loaded experience. And that’s why we try to offer the services that we do is because we want to help you in a way that’s going to fit your specific needs. And we do everything from yoga to acupuncture, music therapy, financial counseling. We do in-house events here at the firehouse, like monthly breakfast and dinners.

Nancy Carbone:

Love seeing them change. I love seeing that after several visits, it could be two months, three months, six months, you start to see who they are, come to the surface, you start to see them smile. Friends

Joshua Calacanis:

Of firefighters is very special to me. I lost my best friend and we’re all brothers on the fire department. So it has helped me and other firefighters. I know personally, I think the really important thing when Nancy realized is that it’s not just the firefighters who were going through this, but it was their families, their spouses, their children. So she made it available to the firefighting community. This building is helping me heal. The people that work here are helping me heal, quite frankly to save my life. There’s no doubt about that.

Kia Carbone:

It feels like an urgency and that support needs to be 24 7, which is why we try to get funding to kind of expand our reach

Drew Slocum:

Gets me every time.

Nancy Carbone:

It’s interesting, I never saw that without the music and it was a little truncated, but the message comes through and I think it’s most important that the message come from the firefighters themselves.

Drew Slocum:

You need to just hearing them speak about it. And I’ve heard people over the years talk about it as well and how important it is. And I think you’ve said this before where it’s firefighting and anything fighting fire, it’s kind of that tough. It’s a tough business or it’s a tough kind of job and can’t always, who do you talk to? A lot of times you bring that home. So I think you guys are doing something great with providing that.

Nancy Carbone:

I think we’re, well, I know I’m honored to do it, to be trusted to me, a huge responsibility. Firefighters, it’s in their DNA to help others and it seems almost equally in their DNA to put off helping themselves. It’s like else comes first and the message really has to be that you have to help yourself in order to help others and create a healthy environment for your family too. So that’s why it’s so critical that we have the family members avail themselves of services as well.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah. So I guess since 2023 or 2020 we’re in the middle of covid or right in 2020, what has changed? Obviously there’s probably a bigger need now, you guys, I see you everywhere all over social media and stuff. Maybe just the feeds I’m in, but it seems like you’re getting out there too.

Nancy Carbone:

We’ve had to and there was an uptick in 21, a little bit more of an uptick in 22. And then as of January this year we’ve exploded. So we’ve got, there’s a 200 and a little bit over 220% increase in services. So we had three counselors in 2020. We now have 14. I have to hire more immediately, and that’s what I’m trying to raise the money for. We are having numbers come through that. It’s staggering eight a day. A lot of them are children. So there is a disconnect. And we’re seeing it in children because the children have missed out on critical socialization skills. A lot of what they were doing was over Zoom. And for small children especially who a lot of their learning really is. And you’ve got two five-year-olds. So a lot of their learning is hands-on all tactical and it’s eye contact.

And so they’re missing a year of growth and it’s starting to show now, now that they’re back in classes, some behavioral things are cropping up. There’s a lot of fear. Some children are quite anxious, they’re having sleeping disturbances and it mirrors the PTSD if you want to call it PTSD, that their parents have felt. So now there’s another new term that I just learned where I believe it’s called C-P-T-S-D, which it’s one thing on top of another isn’t one event that they’re responding to. It’s a prolonged bombardment of, well, I think we could say negativity, negative impact. We’re seeing the results of that.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, that’s crazy. And obviously in New York and probably around the country as well, the first responders were right in the line of the pandemic, and obviously that’s probably the biggest cause of this uptick. I think just aside from everything else, I think America and maybe even the world is dealing with stuff mentally, there’s a lot of mental health issues that have been popping up

Nancy Carbone:

Everywhere. And it’s really interesting, and we won’t get into this because it’s much more of a maggi that I’m willing to really flush into, which is a lot of people are saying, well, the world is crazy. Everything’s upside down. The things that we’re always true to us are no longer there. And I do think it is a world issue now. I don’t know when it will write itself, but I have tremendous faith in people, and I do believe in people are inherently good, but I do think that that also impacts the mental health of everyone. But again, we are in the world of first responders and how does it impact their world? And that’s just another layer. The distrust of government or policy or even something that’s seemingly simple, but it is not is, I’m so sorry, I’m drawing a blank. Of course. The bikes, the lithium ion.

Drew Slocum:

Oh yeah.

Nancy Carbone:

So we are seeing, frankly, a shameful number of fires and many of them fatal fires due to that. So that’s another stressor. And again, that becomes difficult because I’m not quite sure where they’re going to go with it. Are they going to outlaw the cheaper batteries or not? So they’ve got, again, one thing on top of another, those fires, those fires are terrifying fires.

Drew Slocum:

Oh, they, they’re terrifying. I’ve had people on this podcast talking about lithium ion battery fires and there’s no resolution right now. And I saw that there was three fatalities in Brooklyn, what was it yesterday? And the commissioner got on and you’re not going to, you could stop some of the products and I think that will happen, but I don’t know. It’s a bigger problem and it’s not going to stop. Those batteries are just going to be more apparent in our lives.

Nancy Carbone:

They are. I would assume that there’s going to be an increase in BI that the firehouse will be going out and doing many more inspections. And that’s a manpower thing that I’m very happy I’m not the commissioner to have to deal with what they’re facing.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, I already know the FDNY has manpower issues where just people on the streets just to get into the inspecting buildings, and they had that issue in Covid even.

Nancy Carbone:

So there have been challenges of late and again, starting in 2020 that they were not faced with before. And so there’s a lingering effect and keep in mind that there’s still the argument and that people are still dying of covid, which is shocking but happening. It’s certainly not in the numbers that it was, but there’s still complications. And I would venture a guess that most never signed up for that. But again, it becomes part of the job when they’re needed, they go.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah. So I guess I’ve seen some, you had your gala, what’s it in October or so, you have quite the star studded advisory board or Yeah, it’s pretty close

Nancy Carbone:

Know it’s funny, it’s so funny because you would think it isn’t a golden pot where we pull money from. So the celebrities, they give of themselves, they give time, they give recommendations if they’ll do a fundraiser or something, with the exception of Gary Sinis and Steve Emi, who also fund programs here. Oh, wow. Yeah, so the others, Kevin Smith was there. We and Corey Taylor from Slipknot, we are really fortunate. Rachel Feinstein, she’s a comedian. She’s married to Pete is the captain over at one 18, latter one 18.

Drew Slocum:

Oh really? Oh, that’s funny.

Nancy Carbone:

So a lot of her shtick is about the fire department, and it’s as only a wife could say, and it’s quite funny. Yeah, it is star studded. But I find myself having to explain that doesn’t fund us, that helps us to get the funding. But these are really good people that have stepped up. Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister. I mean, it’s pretty cool. They’re really, really nice people. Corey Taylor, I met before I saw Slipknot, and when I saw his costume on Slipknot, I just said, this is Corey is one of the sweetest, quietest people and just a lovely, lovely man who’s very concerned about PTSD. He had a family member that went through a war and didn’t speak of what he experienced, and as a result, he wanted to dedicate his time. So he has the Taylor Foundation and they choose different foundations across the United States. We were one of the first nonprofits that he came to visit and we just hit it off. He’s terrific, but that doesn’t translate into being fulfilled

Drew Slocum:

Well, especially the big increase in need and all that. And we’re going to be pushing this podcast out on Giving Tuesday, so we’re going to really push for the Fire protection community. And I would love to get you involved in some other companies within Fire protection. I think there’s, you kind of hit a lot of the people I talk to every day showing our software product for building inspections. They’re either volunteer firefighter, retired firefighter, or active firefighter and just they’re doing this part-time. Right. So I think there’s a nice fit here to give obviously back to the firefighting community.

Nancy Carbone:

Well, I’m very grateful as we all are here that you’re giving us the time. I do have to say that Friends of Firefighters while we started in New York City and excuse the phones and the eventual sirens and everything else that’s going to happen. I’m in Brooklyn, so it’s noisy. But given everything that everyone is up against, first responders live a different life and they live sometimes just on the edge because the job that they do is quite demanding. And it’s demanding in many ways itself. Of course, we all think of the physical, but not many people think about the mental,

I think of a manatee. If you see a manatee and you see all the chinks in their skin from the motor hitting them, it’s sort of the same. It’s a cumulative effect that we do see in our first responders. And I think that that’s worldwide. I know New York is a very large department and they have quite a few jobs all the time, but there isn’t a firefighter on this planet that isn’t willing to put his or her life on the line to save someone else. And we need to be there for them if they have a hard time. I just see it as a personal calling and we can’t abandon them. And in fact, I think the friends of firefighters really should be nationwide. We have a pilot program in Biloxi and Mississippi right now. I’ve been asked to come to some other states, I won’t mention them right now because I don’t know the politics there.

And if they’re talking beyond, they’re allowed to. But it breaks my heart that we can’t say, great, we’re sending a unit down and this is how we’ll do it. It’s a long protracted process, and I never anticipated the tremendous influx this year. So the budget has more than doubled. It’s actually a little more than tripled. So that’s my job is to raise that money to meet the needs when you have people that the trust is there. I’m not a slick fundraiser, that’s not been my forte, but I’ve had to raise the money and at this point we need a professional fundraising team to go out to ensure that we will always answer the phone. By the way, that phone call was taken by somebody, so it

Nancy Carbone:

Ignored by me. But yeah, I just can’t imagine how hard it is for a first responder to pick up the phone and say, I need help.

Nancy Carbone:

We try away that pressure.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah, I’m close to some, and so I’m working at Inspect Point. We have one of our sales managers, his name’s Jeff, and he’s great. He’s great at his job. He knows a lot, but he’ll get called in on random calls, whether it’s a fire or an emergency. And there’s a lot going on. And we’re obviously very respectful of that and appreciate that tremendously. And they don’t get the thanks They do sometimes. But again, like you said, we got to give back.

Nancy Carbone:

You have to give back to me. It’s really not even a question. We’re strong and we are safe because of them. We all go to sleep at night knowing that if anything happens, we’re going to call 9 1 1 and they’re going to come and they’re going to help us get out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into or whatever is happening. And I just believe that they have earned the respect and they have earned just by signing up for this, going through the training, showing up for it, and then fighting the fires, answering the calls for the elevator or the car accident or covid, they’re there and they’re there sometimes beyond their limit, but they stay on. And so because of that, when they come back home, we need to be there. And you know what? It doesn’t mean we’re going to push. We don’t do ambulance chasing. We don’t ever, but we’re here when they call. And I depend heavily on them to share it with each other because you can do all the advertising. You say you see us everywhere, and I’m glad about that. But really probably the strongest recommendations would come from each other. They can hear that.

Drew Slocum:

Yeah. Yeah. Word of mouth helps tremendously.

Nancy Carbone:

Yeah, it does.

Drew Slocum:

Well, yeah. I’m excited to get this out to the masses. I’m giving Tuesday. It’s a really cool day that America’s kind of come into and I think it’s perfect timing. So thanks for coming out again here, Nancy.

Nancy Carbone:

Of course. Thank you. Really appreciate it. It’s always good to see you Drew, and I cannot believe your sons are five. You were just born in my mind. I

Drew Slocum:

Know. I know. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I guess, how do we find you? How do people go and donate? And obviously it’s probably the best way, right?

Nancy Carbone:

Yeah, I think that is the best way. Although I can feel, Joe, if he could hear me, he would be staring me down and probably holding up cards is www friends of firefighters.org and it’s Friends of Firefighters, plural. I know a lot of people end up, we are not running this place for one person. We are running it for all the firefighters in New York City. And the one thing to touch on, we are trying to expand to help EMS as well. And while we see some E EMM s, we just don’t have the man slash womanpower to handle the entire load. And again, seeing so many now, my biggest fear is a wait list. And that’s just not acceptable. Most firefighters call when it’s already a Mayday mayday. So yeah, we really need to have them seen within a week, and that’s what we shoot for. Doesn’t always work, but that’s what we shoot for. And there’s no cost involved at all. We don’t go through insurance and we don’t limit the number of sessions and we don’t have 30 minute sessions. It’s a full hour.

Drew Slocum:

Oh, wow. Wow.

Nancy Carbone:

It’s just important to know. And prior to Covid, we were already doing remote sessions on a closed platform so that it was secure. And so when Covid happened, we didn’t miss one session. In fact, that’s great. We started to increase then and we continued that. It’s much more convenient for some firefighters to just log in instead of trying.

Drew Slocum:

Yep. Yeah. Instead of going to Brooklyn.

Nancy Carbone:

Although Brooklyn’s good. So thank you.

Drew Slocum:

Well, thanks Nancy. Yeah, I’m looking forward to this. And yeah, appreciate you coming on and doing what you do with the community, the firefighter community, and New York and beyond.

Nancy Carbone:

It’s an honor. Thank you.

Drew Slocum:

Thanks.

Nancy Carbone:

Thanks for what you do, drew.

Okay. Take care. Bye. Alright, thanks so much.

Drew Slocum:

This has been episode 55 of the Fire Protection Podcast, powered by Inspect Point. Again, want to thank Nancy Carbone for coming on the podcast to discuss friends of firefighters, what they’ve been up to and their needs. There’s still a lot of mental health needs out there for firefighting community and even beyond that. So it’s cool they’re putting it in the light and getting it out there in front of everybody. And please support if you can. And again, great cause for the Fire Protection Community. Thanks again for listening.