On-call firefighter Iwan Ward and his family received our support when he went through a difficult time following some traumatic shouts. Here, he and his wife Anita share how we helped all of them – remotely and at Harcombe House.

When Iwan Ward isn’t cleaning windows in his day job, he’ll be helping his wife with their two young sons or joining a community meeting in his role as a councillor. And around all of that, he’s also an on-call firefighter.

Iwan, 40, has been in Mid and West Wales FRS for 16 years in his on-call role and has loved it from the moment he joined. However, while the job is deeply rewarding, it’s also a huge juggling act in his already busy life – and comes with pressures many could never imagine.

No-one can predict when a difficult shout will leave a lasting impact on you. For Iwan, who was recently promoted to Crew Manager at Crymych Fire Station, it came in 2023.

While he had always been very open with those around him, Iwan began to withdraw and bottled up how he was feeling in the weeks that followed. This became a snowball effect, and he started struggling to sleep, experiencing flashbacks and noticed his mood changing.

Fortunately, he knew we were there to offer support and reached out to us early. From there, we’ve offered him remote counselling and invited him and his family to Harcombe House on a rest and recharge stay – something he says was very much needed by all of them.

“I love being an on-call firefighter,” says Iwan. “I actually wanted to join when I was 18, but life got in the way and my wife wasn’t immediately keen on the idea. Don’t get me wrong, she still worries about me, that’s part of the job. But it’s a very proud role for both of us.”

While knowing and being part of your community is undoubtedly one of the greatest draws to being an on-call firefighter, Iwan says it also means he often knows the person at the other end of a shout – so when his pager goes off, it comes with that added concern.

His wife, Anita, says: “It’s still exactly the same all these years later. If he goes out in the middle of the night, I won’t sleep until he comes back. But [the crew] are all one big family. If they get a bad shout, they all talk through it together, they’re all there for one another, and that’s reassuring for me.”

While Iwan knew about the support we offer, he didn’t call us until last year when he started facing challenges with his mental health.

“We lost a little girl in a house fire last year and, for me, that was a tipping point because we’d had a really rough 12 to 18 months as a station leading up to it,” says Iwan. “I think I probably saw more bad deaths and fires in that 18 months than I’d seen in the last 15 years.

“When the incident happened, it was 9.30pm at night so my boys were still awake. Then as I came home in the morning, my kids were waking up, so that was tough – stepping back into that family life.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it properly, and I was being distant from my wife and kids. I had my boys going to my wife and saying, ‘why doesn’t dad want to speak to us?’ That’s when I realised how bad it had got.

“I was very snappy towards my wife too. I’m usually quite a cool person, but we were suddenly always arguing over really silly things. On top of that, sleep was a big thing for me. My brain was on overdrive every night, so I wouldn’t be getting to sleep until say 5am. I’d then often be waking up to flashbacks.”

Anita, meanwhile, had to watch her husband suffering, which understandably had a huge knock-on impact on her: “It was really difficult, he’s never been like that before. It wasn’t him to be down or quiet, he’s always a big, jolly, happy person, life and soul of the party, and then to suddenly be very down and very quiet, was very difficult to see.”

Iwan says, while he didn’t feel at a point of crisis, he knew getting support as early as possible was key.

“I knew, while I might be okay with it at first, I didn’t know what I’d be like in 10, 15, 20 years,” he says. “I’ve seen it, I’ve seen people trying to be strong and then in 10, 15 years, they’re finished. I wanted to deal with it straight away.

“Just being able to have contact with the Charity so quickly was brilliant. I was offered remote counselling and the chance to visit a centre almost straight away, with my family.”

The whole family visited Harcombe House on a rest and recharge stay, and Iwan says: “It had been really difficult on everyone, watching me struggling, so I was very aware they were in need of a break too. It was absolutely amazing, I can’t praise it enough.”

And Anita says of the time away: “For the first time, for a long time, we were there as a family with no other distractions. We were just able to enjoy the two boys… they loved the swimming and they were able to play football, air hockey, the walks, it was just so relaxed and peaceful.”

Iwan followed the visit with the remote counselling sessions, and says of those: “They were amazing, it was just a chance to talk about everything.”

Iwan is also fully supporting our 24/7 Crisis Line, which we launched in November 2023 and says: “If it had been there when I was struggling, I’d have been on it straight away. I’ve got friends who’ve taken their lives because they haven’t had anyone to talk to.”

The couple are both now spreading the word as far as they can and would also encourage anyone reading their story to regularly support us – having seen what a difference your donations make.

“It’s a really big help to know that if any of us are going through anything, we’ve got the Charity there to go to – the kids as well,” says Anita.

If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, you can call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or visit the ‘Access Support’ tab in My Fire Fighters Charity.

And remember – if you’re feeling suicidal, you can call our Crisis Line 24 hours a day on 0300 373 0896.