Second Chance ?


I’m Peter Chiavetta, 1st Assistant Fire Chief in my local fire department. I respond to EMS 911 calls every week. I received this dispatch during the evening.

     Meet PD for mental health transport. 

    Upon my arrival I am briefed by PD that I have a victim of a suicide attempt. My patient put a shot gun in their mouth and pulled the trigger.  99.9997 percent of the time a bullet primer will fire. That’s how reliable it is. This time there was a missed fire. My patient gets a second chance at life. 

     I start a quick interview. Have you contemplated self harm before? 

    “Yes and I should have sought help before this” they say.

    I ask them about their childhood. 

    “I had a good childhood”. 

    My ambulance arrives and I hand my patient off to the crew. 

    I lag behind to interview a sibling mainly to see how the family is handling this traumatic event and to make sure everyone is going to be ok. They had wrestled for a half hour to get the gun away so the gun couldn’t be reloaded. Eventually I ask how their childhood was and get the same answer. “I had a good childhood”. 

    My ACE interview revealed a different picture.

    It reads like the ACE survey; 

  • Loss of biological father through divorce.
  • Paternal father beats mother pre-memory. (I filled them in that their body still remembers)
  • Alcoholic step-father.
  • Emotional abuse, step-father yelled constantly.
  • Emotional neglect


    What low expectations adults have of what a “Good Childhood” is. Their narrative went on to what a good childhood looked like to them. After the divorce the family plummeted into poverty. They watched their mom go without food so they could have enough. The two children went to work at an early age to help bring money into the family to pay even the most basic bills. Looking at these two siblings from the outside, one might think what a heroic family pooling their resources together to make life work for them. The younger sibling wanting to end their life and the older one telling what they thought was a “good childhood” while dragging on a cigaret. I encouraged the self medication. 

      I excused myself so to retrieve my ACES hand out from my vehicle. I hear “I’ll follow you”. 

    I think, there must be more to say. We didn’t know one of my crew members was waiting for me by my truck so all there was, was silence. I’ll never know what else there was.

    I hope my patient makes a successful recovery during their 72 hour mandatory commitment. It must be tough having the expectation where you imagine love presents its self. Of what love feels like. That moment one is inspired by love. That moment of being accepted and appreciated for who you are. The moment that gives you that rush of tingling that runs from the bridge of your nose to your eyes. To a light gasp of breath in your chest where it all happens simultaneously to produce a single tear you swear comes from your heart.

    But the way we are loving our children isn’t working. We are harming our children in the way we love them.

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Thank you all for your comments. It means a lot to me. It is some times difficult to initiate an ACES interview because of main stream therapy and its dogma. Do no harm. Todays therapy still wants treatment initialized by the patient.

How can that be done when the victim thinks they are living a normal life.

A friend set me straight. He told me that I am the beginning and they (therapist) are the end. 

Peter, that was an awesome post.

How beautifully you captured the essence of love, 

'to produce a single tear you swear comes from your heart.'




Thank you first for taking the time to share this experience and further illustrate how important it is for those involved in the community to ask important questions about childhood experiences, for ACES and resilience.

Also, thank you for being a first responder!

Peter, thanks for this thoughtful post! It made me think of instances In my reporting on ACEs and resilience where sources have talked about how childhood trauma was "normalized," so that people don't look at what happened to them as a problem, and instead internalize shame, stigma, blaming themselves for feelings that arise.