12 years ago, a fire changed David Griffin’s life forever. He was driving a fire truck when he responded to the scene.

Griffin spoke Monday night at the Steeple, telling local firefighters the story.

The giant furniture store had no sprinkler system. It was nighttime, and dozens of firefighters went inside.

They were inside when the worst happened: a flashover, causing the roof to collapse, killing 9 firefighters, including Brandon Thompson, a Mobile native.

“Is everybody out where you’re at? No sir, we’ve still got guys in there.”

David Griffin, a survivor of the fire, plays the radio traffic of the Charleston 9’s last moments…the panic, and desperation.

“Car one to anybody in engine 15!”

“I think it’s important for people to hear that, because for me, I’ve heard it so many times I have it memorized, but for people in the crowd, when they hear that, it changes their thought process,” said Griffin.

Griffin presents a comprehensive timeline of that night and the aftermath, including his own story of post-traumatic stress.

Mobile’s Fire Chief Mark Sealy heard Griffin’s story two years ago.

“That really triggered me to start the search to find the answers for our department,” Sealy told NBC 15.

The question: How to better prepare first responders to recognize and cope with trauma?

“Our firefighters see a lot of traumas, and those traumas are similar to what veterans see,” Sealy added.

Many first responders are military veterans themselves, including Sealy.

Sealy enlisted the help of fellow Marine, John Kilpatrick, for assistance after searching for a solution.

“In my 33-year career, I’ve deployed three times, plus another 18-month tour at the Pentagon,” said Kilpatrick.

He founded Veterans Recovery Resources, the program now training Mobile firefighters.

“I have been in recovery for over 23 years and still, every day, am actively participating in my own recovery,” Kilpatrick said.

VRR takes a community-based approach to empower organizations to deal with trauma.

“We see things that the community – they call us on their worst day,” said Sealy.

Sealy says over three years, VRR will train the entire department in mental health skills.

“We don’t have a plan in place to teach them how to process that, the things they see, and that’s what our goal is,” said Sealy.

A day’s work for a firefighter is always uncertain.

Griffin, VRR and Chief Sealy want to make sure first responders never feel alone.

“I think people gain strength from someone like me because I have been through it, I lived through it and I am still doing it today. I am still on the job and still trying to do the best I can,” Griffin said.

The Mobile City Council approved the $280,000 contract Tuesday, and it will last three years.

Article Link: https://mynbc15.com/news/local/mobile-fire-to-receive-mental-health-training-charleston-9-survivor-offers-support