By Sophie Sadler
A retired fireman used the COVID lockdown to create a series of books to help service personnel come to terms with their demons. Now living in Portugal, he wishes to use his knowledge and charity to help the local Bombeiros.
After 28 years as a fireman in Chippenham and Swindon in the UK, Rob Evans has seen things most of us can’t imagine in our worst nightmares. As a leader of a firetruck for 23 years, he regularly made life and death decisions, while he says he “just kept going”. Working 96 hours then 48 hours off – then two days and two nights shift patterns – as well as bringing up a family, he had no time to stop and think.
“I’ve always been there for everyone else first. I led by example and would always volunteer to lead from the front. I suppressed my feelings and emotions, and missed events I cannot ever reclaim, like family birthdays or Christmas and New Year celebrations. The shift patterns of public servants are not family-friendly.”
Retiring in 2017, Rob pursued his dream of moving to France with his falconry business Wings and Talons, including falcons, owls, hawks and an eagle. He started the enterprise while still in the service and it was his therapy during the years he was working. He would present educational displays with the birds of prey for dementia patients, autistic children, hotel and wedding guests in his spare time. He dreamed of his birds living in his garden and putting on similar displays in his new homeland.
Instead, due to high taxes, he was forced to sell them and dismantle his aviaries, and then he found himself in a very strict lockdown. With time on his hands, he started to relive the past. “No longer on a schedule and timescale, lockdown allowed me time to reflect and ponder on what I’ve witnessed, withstood and achieved. Stopping from a rapid pace of life has, in turn, allowed so much to show itself. Stuff that was shoved down and forgotten, only to fester consciously or subconsciously.”
As he no longer had his birds of prey as a distraction, he started to write to get things out of his head, firstly on his blog. “A lot of people label it as stress, but it’s more than that. After feedback from readers, I came up with the idea of writing a book to help people to recognise what they have in themselves and recognise it in others.”
Sadly, France did not work out for Rob as he faced a number of challenges which made him and his wife realise the area and weather was not for them. He rehomed his birds of prey which was incredibly hard, as he had reared many of them from chicks and some were over 15 years old and very attached to him.
Rob’s first book A Fireman’s Tired Eyes was written after his move to the Algarve in February 2021. It recounts his experiences in the fire service, “I’ve written this merely to help understand what I’ve experienced and in doing so be more able to write about it and to potentially help others. I am not here for sympathy, praise or credit. This is about giving back and helping.”
In the book, Rob identifies triggers that lead him to negative feelings and he believes this will be relevant to anyone in uniform or the NHS. “There is a lot of bravado in the services, but this joviality sometimes hides a deep vulnerability.” It could be that you don’t want to attend a BBQ because the smell reminds you of burning bodies.” Rob advises coping strategies to help deal with trauma and PTSD and advocates using doTERRA essential oils to help ground you when you experience a trigger.
“Now I have got all this on paper, I have dealt with it and I am in a better place. I am not a therapist or counsellor, nor wish to be. I have studied a course on PTSD, CBT, and REBT, but I am not advocating any skills. This project is about giving support on mental health issues that arise from the effects of trauma witnessed in the emergency services that can manifest into acute PTSD.”
Not content with one book, Rob started on the second, Fireman’s Tired Eyes and Mind (Signs, Symptoms and Triggers). Now living in Ferragudo, in a strange twist of fate he was reunited with locally renowned champion of the Bombeiros Debbie Burton, who established the Alerta charity. He has known her from school age; both attended a swimming club together for many years. He is now donating the proceeds of the book to the Bombeiros as well as a fire service charity in the UK.
Rob is now working on his third book, Fireman’s Tired Mind (Breaking the Stigma of Therapy and Alternative Therapy) and is organising a two-week documentary tour of the UK fire service next year to promote and highlight the importance of talking about your feelings and emotions from traumas. He also hopes to be able to translate the book to Portuguese and do the same here in Portugal. He is also currently filming a documentary about his experiences here in Ferragudo.
As well as working on his mental health, he is focused on fitness, he cycles to get in shape and eats well. He also advocates meditation. “If you can sit with your negative thoughts, then you can beat them. Reframe the negative thoughts into positive ones, which in turn leads to action.”
So is there anything he misses about his old job? “The camaraderie; everyone has each other’s back, but I miss the clowns and not the circus.”
Rob’s books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.