Updated: March 5, 2021
My journey to be the person writing these words began in October 2005 when 16 year old Ali took her first steps into the volunteer fire service.
My early firefighting years cemented my love for the profession but I was also met with wall of resistance from men who did not want a young women in their firehouse. Their resistance became violent and the numerous traumatic experiences accumulated on top of each other until they became something I could no longer see around on my own. My only positive coping skill was writing and I filled dozens of journals during my time in my first fire station.
From those writings, I self-published Where Hope Lives (www.aliwrothrock.com) in 2010. Sharing my story was the natural progression of my experiences and an intentional choice that I made. Over time I began to speak more about the mental health aspect of things, including my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. I morphed my presentations into more of an educational experience than one where I only shared my story. And then in 2018 I gave what I thought would be my last talk.
Telling a truth that is sometimes hard to hear can create consequences that are hard to bear.
So I stood in a conference room in North Carolina and said everything I’d ever wanted to say. During this presentation I had a thought that I immediately shared with the group. I said:
"What if instead of reacting when a firefighter had taken their life, we provide education on signs to look for ahead of time? What if we talk about grief before we are dealing with a tragedy? What if we talk about how to make fire stations safer before and not after someone is assaulted in our stations? What if this kind of education was available 24/7 instead of someone needing to be in front of me?”
I’d had an idea that would quickly come to fruition and what I thought was the end was actually a brand new beginning.
A short time later, On the Job and Off, LLC was formed (www.onthejobandoff.com). On the Job and Off is an education platform that provides mental health and anti-violence training for first responders. We have students in all 50 states, Canada, and military bases through our work with the Department of Defense. Running On the Job and Off as it’s CEO is now my full-time job and this position is one that is always challenging me to be brave.
To be brave in business I have to be willing to identify my weaknesses, continue to assemble a team that is as passionate about first responders mental health as I am, and to be audacious enough take increasingly bigger and bigger swings. But even with On the Job and Off, my adventures in business were not over.
At the start of 2020 I was in the last semester of my Psychology Degree. For my final internship I had to provide in-person crisis counseling and with the COVID restrictions in place the only way I was able to do this was at my local Children’s Resource Center as a part of child abuse investigations. My role was to support the child, their loved one, or even the investigative staff if they were to need it. These experiences were emotionally brutal and always heartbreaking. But in the midst of them I quickly realized something. I realized that in many of the cases I was involved in, the child had interacted with a first responder who could have or should have noticed signs of the abuse they were enduring. Despite obvious signs of injuries or neglect, no child abuse reports were ever made and I knew that from talking to the Detectives.
I knew that we could do better and I ruminated on it until I had an idea:
The C.A.R.E.S. (Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting for the Emergency Services) Project. For 3 months I worked with subject matter experts to write a comprehensive course specifically for first responders on how to recognize and report signs of child abuse, neglect, and trafficking. I gathered support from national and international social justice and emergency service organizations to back the project. And in November of 2020 On the Job and Off announced the initiative and released the course and its resources, completely free for first responders everywhere.
The response to The C.A.R.E.S. Project was stunning. Pilot data from our first 100 students showed a whopping 75% said they’d seen signs of child abuse prior to taking to the course but hadn’t realized it. Since taking the course 95% and 94% of students said they were more confident in recognizing signs of child abuse and trafficking.
Recognizing the signs is crucial but it’s only one half of the equation.
The biggest and most important metric is this one: 79% and 75% of students said they were more willing report child abuse and trafficking respectively since taking The C.A.R.E.S Project.
With the astounding response came an additional ask from our students. They wanted more education on things like what The C.A.R.E.S. Project covered. So just a five weeks after launching The C.A.R.E.S. Project I announced First Responders Care, a non-profit powered by NDRI that empowers first responders to take an active role in their communities resilience (www.FRCare.org) I assembled a powerhouse Board of Directors and as we speak we are off to the races to create new initiatives.
For the last decade, I’ve been writing. Every single day, no matter where I am or what my day will hold, I write.
When all my speaking engagements were cancelled at the start of 2020, I set a new goal of finishing this second book. I’d had an audacious goal to try and get an editor and a book deal instead of self-publishing like I did with Where Hope Lives. In the fall of 2020 I was signed to a literary agency and right before Christmas, I got a book deal. Currently I am deep in the editing process with my brilliant editor and book two will be published next year!
On March 20th I will be sharing much more about my story including how I found my way back from trauma, how I regained your voice, and how to find your ferocity.
I hope to see you there!
Written by Ali Rothrock, YFFR Resilient Women Leader Conference Speaker
Ali Rothrock Is one of the five speakers at the first annual, Resilient Women Leaders Conference, on March 20th, 2021. Ali Rothrock has been in the volunteer fire service since 2005 as a firefighter and EMT. She is the CEO for On the Job & Off, an online platform dedicated to building more resilient first responders. Ali is the Founder of First Responders Care, a non-profit that empowers first responders to take an active role in their community's resilience. She is part of her local Critical Incident Stress Management Team, a Behavioral Health volunteer, a Certified Trauma Responder, the Eastern Division Trustee for Women in Fire, and has worked as a sexual assault & domestic violence counselor. Ali is the author of Where Hope Lives, a memoir of her journey through her first few years in the fire service and is currently writing her second book, to be published in 2022. Ali has an Associate's degree in Fire Science & a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Crisis Counseling.