AURORA, Ohio — For nearly 25 years, firefighting was all Michael Millet knew. He earned it. He wanted it.
“It was full of excitement and wanting to learn," Millet told us. “This was the career that I wanted to pour my life into. You’re enamored with the calling of the career.”
But not knowing how to deal with the pressures of the job, he says, nearly killed him.
“I was pushed to the brink," Millet said.
He stuffed it down ... embracing a hard exterior image, neglecting his emotions, and not dealing with what he saw as a firefighter every day.
“I was afraid to bring it forward. I used self-humor in the firehouse to deflect truly how I was feeling," Millet said.
He became a fire chaplain, hoping that serving others in his field would offset his own struggles. Then, the call of duty came for 9/11. The images, forever changed him.
“I can remember driving in one of the department vehicles coming across the George Washington Bridge, looking off into the distance and seeing the smoke rising," Millet remembered. “(I was) overwhelmed by the magnitude of what really transpired.”
At Ground Zero, he counseled first responders and construction workers. He was also there to save lives. Yet, he couldn't escape the death surrounding him.
“So it was still a rescue mission thought process. To be there when it transitioned from rescue to recovery, was devastating," Millet said.
He was proud of his mission -- but it was too much for him to carry. PTSD, depression, and anxiety took hold.
“I knew I needed to get help," Millet recalls. "To the point of … reaching out in the middle of the night in tears … to be afraid that you were going to be pushed so far to the edge that you would take your own life … that scared me.”
He felt trapped. Michael wanted to speak up but couldn't after years of anguish in his own mind.
“The decision was, do I let it take me down, or do I make a cognizant effort that what needs to change? And the change for me was, I had to leave," Millet recalls.
Now a pastor in Aurora, Millet wants to break the stigma he says so many in safety forces are too afraid to bring to the surface.
“It’s hard to admit, but it’s the reality. And it’s the reality that far too many of us can go through, and not communicate, and the results are just the opposite. We need to be able to share it," he says.
Michael Millet considers his career an honor. His message isn't to discourage those from entering his former world. He says people just need to be prepared.
“If I was better equipped as a youth firefighter going in, chasing and following the dreams of this career, maybe things would be different," Millet adds.
A difference Millet says he wants to make for those who are ready to share.
“Forget what others are going to say. Forget what others are going to think, you’re always going to have that. But know, that you are not alone.”
For more on Michael Millet's We Will Stand Project, click here.