Firefighter honored for saving colleague from suicide
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POCATELLO — Dustin Hale was ready to end it all.
The Pocatello firefighter had decided life wasn’t worth it and didn’t care to live anymore.
“I had reached a point where I couldn’t see a way out,” Hale says.
Hale served ten years in the U.S. Navy before joining the department where he worked for five and a half years.
He was a paramedic and dealt with traumatic, life and death situations nearly every day.
“You take those images home and you see all that pain and suffering and some people are ok with it,” Hale tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I seem to absorb all that and take it with me all the time.”
The PTSD from his job led to insomnia and Hale would sometimes go two or three days without sleeping. He turned to alcohol and it got to the point where he could no longer do his job.
“I knew that I wasn’t the person I would want showing up to take care of me,” Hale says.
Hale’s behavior was so bad the department needed to let him go but on the day he was supposed to meet with administrators, he never showed up.
“I reached out to try and contact him and was unable to get a hold of him,” recalls Pocatello Fire Captain Andy Moldenhauer.
Moldenhauer didn’t feel right about Hale’s absence so he met up with Hale’s sister and went to his house.
“The fire department is a brotherhood and I relayed to him that even if he was no longer an employee of the fire department, he was still a brother,” Moldenhauer says.
Those work brothers spoke for four hours with Hale initially refusing to even think about getting help.
“He admitted to having a gun in his mouth earlier that day and that was the point when I tried to turn his experience as a paramedic on him and say, ‘You’ve now obligated me to stay here,'” Moldenhauer says.
Eventually, Hale agreed to go the VA Salt Lake City Center and Moldenhauer, along with a battalion chief, drove him to Utah.
“By the time we made it back to Pocatello after taking him down to the VA center in Salt Lake, it was like 1 o’clock in the morning,” Moldenhauer says.
Hale stayed at the VA for a few weeks and then checked himself into the Center for Excellence in Baltimore. The Center is for firefighters suffering from PTSD and substance abuse.
Three months later, he returned home.
“I’m healthy and I’m happy and my family life is good,” Hale says. “If Andy hadn’t of shown up at my house that day, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it.”
Hale knows he won’t be able to be a firefighter again but he’s ok with that. He’s figuring out what’s next for him and is thankful a loving captain was there the day he needed someone the most.
“My job was to save lives and that’s part of Andy’s job too,” Hale says. “If Andy hadn’t of shown up at my house that day, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it.”
Moldenhauer was one of 11 East Idaho Real Heroes honored by the American Red Cross during a luncheon March 7 in Idaho Falls. He says he didn’t do anything special and is glad Hale is doing better.
“I didn’t do anything that I don’t think anyone else would have done,” Moldenhauer says. “The fact that Duston is doing better is reward enough.”