(Chapter 1 of 5)
Hi! My name is Matt, and one time, in college, I nearly jumped from a 6th floor window.
OK. Got that out of the way. It’s a true story, one I’m going to tell you because, if you are in a bad place, you can find encouragement to write another chapter in your story. As The Doctor once said, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
I grew up in Queens, New York. As you might expect, there is always something in the air there, in more ways than one. As a kid, I was constantly watching the planes, and helicopters, and blimps go by and I just fell in love with aviation. I learned all I could about anything man made that could fly and hoped I’d be able to fly someday.
In 1983, my parents moved us out further on Long Island (or as folks here in Pennsylvania like to call it, Lawn Guyland). If you don’t know, Long Island is known as the “Cradle of Aviation”. I began to fine tune my interest and decided that anyone could land a plane on a 10,000-foot runway. I wanted to try and land on a postage stamp trying to get away from me at 30 knots. So, I geared everything toward trying to earn an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, then on to flight school, and who knows? Maybe be a Blue Angel someday. In fact, my 6th grade yearbook said “Hopes to be a Navy Fighter Pilot someday.”
Not long after, a little movie about ships and planes came out that you may have heard of. “TOP GUN” just solidified my desire to fly F-14 Tomcats. I was gonna be Maverick, or Iceman, or Hollywood.
But, in 10th grade, I had to start wearing glasses, which torpedoed, so to speak, any chance I had of flying for the Navy. But I figured I could be the guy in back. I could be Goose. (Ever wonder why Goose didn’t, well, duck?)
I was able to secure a Congressional nomination to Annapolis, but unfortunately, I was cut in the last round. However, I was accepted to SUNY Maritime College with a 3-year NROTC scholarship guarantee. Maritime is run just like the Naval Academy, so I figured it was the next best thing. All I had to do was keep my grades up.
First semester was fine, 3.2. But second semester, I took a little extracurricular class you may have heard of, too. I became an EMT, but lost my scholarship. I was devastated. It was my own fault, of course. And there were other ways I could earn a commission. But as an 18 year old kid, I couldn’t help think something was trying to tell me it really wasn’t for me. That the past 10 years of my life were wasted.
I fell into a depression. I wound up resigning from the NROTC unit. So when all was said and done, I was Cougar. My depression deepened, and it all came to a head the night of the Halloween mixer my sophomore year.
That night, I was on call for the campus ambulance. I was alone in my room, most everyone else was at the mixer. I felt overwhelmed. I called the campus police and put the ambulance out of service, telling them I wasn’t feeling well. I then opened my 6th floor dorm room window and sat on the ledge.
And I don’t know for how long. And I don’t remember what went through my mind. And I don’t know what made me change my mind. And I don’t know why I came back in and closed the window.
The next morning, I was on shift for the local volunteer ambulance corps. My partner was a fellow cadet, the chief of the campus rescue squad, and someone I thought was a good friend. So, I decided to tell him what I almost did. He looked me in the eye and said, “Whoa, EDP?” and walked away from me.
EDP was the New York City radio code for Emotionally Disturbed Person. This was not a term of endearment. I thought, well, if my “friend” doesn’t want to hear it, I’m sure no one else does. And it was 25 years before I told this story again.
That’s my story. In the coming weeks, I am going to tell you the story of some of our brothers and sisters who are, unfortunately, no longer with us.
And we ARE going to talk about the elephant in the room at every fire station, EMS station, police precinct, and dispatch center around the world: Mental Health in Emergency Services. We ARE going to get this dialogue going. We ARE going to spread the word that it’s ok to talk about it, that it’s ok to not be ok.
Come along with me, my brothers and sisters. We need to talk.
Matt Giacopelli began his EMS career as a cadet at SUNY Maritime College in 1991. Since then, he has spent time in urban, suburban, and rural agencies, doing 911, interfacility, and critical care transports. Having earned his Paramedic certification in 2000, he's been around a few different blocks a few times, but will never say he's seen it all. Matt is currently getting acclimated to his new position as a Captain with Southern York County EMS in Pennsylvania.