One West Orange High student is bringing awareness to a detrimental topic: mental health.
Senior Christopher Martin created “Burning Image,” a documentary that highlights the importance of firefighter mental health.
The five-minute video features footage and interviews with members of the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department.
“Nobody is perfect, and nobody has 100% amazing days all the time,” Martin said. “I hope people just stop for a few minutes to think about the time that these people dedicate to us and the toll that that may take on them. Mental health is important, and it should be something that is talked about more and normalized.”
FROM IDEA TO INSPIRATION
Martin said the video was created as a project for his Digital Video Technology class, led by teacher Jessica Stokes. Students were given a few genre categories from which to choose; he selected documentary.
“I’ve been wanting to branch out and do something outside of school for a while,” he said. “I knew we had the fire station really close, so I brought up the idea to my teacher, who said she really liked it. … My challenge came because I didn’t really want to do a typical video — like a day-in-the-life video. I had to figure out something new, and people don’t really usually think about the mental health aspect for firefighters.”
Although he was unsure if he would get a response, Martin took a chance and reached out to WGFR Chief Jose Gainza. The two set up a day to discuss the project, and by the end of the week, Martin had completed two days of filming and interviews with the help of stations 21 and 24.
Gainza said the public rarely, if ever, has to deal with the issues that firefighters, law-enforcement officers and first responders encounter.
“There is growing awareness of behavioral health issues and their severe detrimental effects on the wellness of firefighters,” he said. “As a result of the stresses that firefighters endure while performing their duties — such as child victimization incidents, violent crime, the inherent dangers of fighting fires and other potentially traumatic events — their mental health and well-being may be negatively impacted over time.”
The video features three separate interviews with Andy Jones, fire chaplain; Brandon Sabat, battalion chief; and Frank Genua, lieutenant.
Jones said most first responders see about 150 tragic events in their lives, where the average person may see two to three.
“These ladies and gentlemen see a lot of things that happen in their lives that are challenging, and, sometimes, they take them in and don’t really know how to let them go,” Jones said in the video. “They have somebody they can talk to that’s not going to carry the weight of what they’ve just seen.”
Gainza said stewarding a behavioral health program at an organization calls for a thorough understanding of behavioral health. All the department’s chief officers participate in the UCF REACT program, through which they learn skills to identify “stress injuries,” assess peers’ mental health, provide peer-level support and organize required follow-up when necessary.
“We also have a Peer Support Team of eight firefighters in various ranks trained in peer support and Critical Incident Stress Management,” Gainza said.
One of the most important things Martin said he learned from creating the video was that it’s OK to talk to people.
“One thing that they hit on a lot was that nobody is going to shame you for having problems,” he said. “We’re all human, so it’s perfectly OK to go to someone (who) cares about you and tell them if you’re struggling. If you go to the right person, then they’re going to come to you with loving arms, be understanding and help you work through what you’re going through.”
Martin’s project was for his Level 4 DVT class, which he also takes with Level 5, the school’s television news program.
His passion for video started in seventh grade and has grown into something he plans on pursuing long-term.
“I felt like this was something I could take somewhere, because I realized I was good at it and it intrigued me,” he said. “I liked being able to show. Naturally, I am a quiet person, and I don’t talk a lot, but through videos, it’s something that I can easily show people what I’m thinking or feeling without having to just talk. I like being able to create the story and bring my original ideas to life.”
Other past projects Martin has worked on include a video educating about school shooters, a promotion video for PEZ candy and, his favorite project, a thriller video.
He will pursue his passion for video in college. He will attend Valencia for two years before transferring to the University of Central Florida’s film program.