When I first stumbled across Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress, it left a resounding impression. A major theme in my upcoming novel A Bone to Pick is first responder stress and the marks it can leave on a person. (A Bone to Pick is the second book in the XK9 Trilogy. Its projected pub date is in August 2020). 

Post-traumatic stress is a huge problem for first responders

The toll that traumatic events can take on professionals who are regularly exposed to blood, gore, violence and death is huge. The first responder community is beginning to understand it’s impossible for people to “tough it out” indefinitely and continue to thrive. Not without help and support. But cultural change is slow. It’s hard for “tough guys” of both/all genders to admit they need help.

In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel's Facebook profile picture.)
In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel’s Facebook profile picture.)

Unfortunately, it also can be hard for them to find help once they realize they need it. That culture of denial can go all the way to the top. And the US has never been a great haven of enlightenment when it comes to mental health.

Daniel is a firefighter and paramedic as well as an artist. He’s also an activist on the topic of first responder post-traumatic stress. He pours his passion on the subject into both his artwork and his speaking engagements.

With that introduction, I hope you’ll be moved and fascinated by Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress. He depicts scenes featuring all types of first responders. In this post I’ve shared one example each from Communications/Dispatch, EMS, Fire, and Police

But you can see much more of his work on his website and his Facebook page. All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!

Communications Departments

A uniformed woman sits in an emergency dispatch call center station with an exhausted look on her face, while the faint, ghostly images of people in danger or pain float around her.
The Ghosts of Dispatch © by Daniel Sundahl. Of this image, he writes, “Speaking with someone as they kill themselves or hearing someone pleading for help as they’re being murdered is something the rest of us just don’t understand. This one is for all the dispatchers. Stay safe brothers and sisters.” 

My first encounter with Daniel’s art came when I discovered The Ghosts of Dispatch while searching for images to illustrate my blog post “Merry Christmas, and be careful out there.” It took my breath away the first time I saw it, for a multitude of reasons. 

Emergency Medical Services

Is there anything I can say that’s more eloquent than what Daniel himself has written about this next image?

An EMT holds a shrouded baby in his arms, against a black background. One tiny, bloodless arm dangles from the wrapping, but the ghostly image of a living baby reaches up to touch his face.
Children of Heaven © by Daniel Sundahl. “I often hear from fellow Paramedics of the terrible calls they’ve had involving children. . . . Calls involving children are the ones that affect us the most. . . . I still have many calls in my head that I can’t get out that involve children. . . . I call this image Children of Heaven. It brings me peace thinking where these kids are now instead of thinking of what happened to them. “

First responder stress probably can’t get much worse than a murdered baby. But then, it also seems there’s an unimaginable range of horrors it is possible to confront, and the folks who’ll confront them are first responders, God help them.

Fire

Artwork about first responder stress among firefighters is a recurring theme from Sundahl.

A group of firefighters in full gear confront a blaze and billowing smoke. At the heart of the flames an angry dragon's head spews fire at them.
Fire Fight © by Daniel Sundahl. “Fighting the Dragon…my fellow firefighters know what this means.” As a fantasy artist myself, I absolutely could not resist this one.

Firefighters stand between the rest of us and that dragon. Whether it’s a raging structural fire,  vehicle-turned-inferno, or a wildfire roaring up a steep hillside, they stand between it and us. All too often they pay a steep price, as well.

Police

Police officers never know what’s coming, but like all first responders their lives are spent on call. Their schedules exist at the mercy of the next emergency. A day can be fairly uneventful, and then turn suddenly deadly. 

In a wintry landscape with a city at sunset behind them, one officer kneels and fires a gun. Nearby a female medic bends over to render aid to his partner, who has been shot.
Officer Down, © by Daniel Sundahl. “Would you enter a live shooting event to treat the injured and help take them to safety? What if it was someone you knew? The medic and fallen officer in this image are close friends in real life. They work on the same shift so this situation is a real possibility for them. I have no doubt she would risk her life to save him.”

hope you’ve been inspired by these images and the brave people they represent. Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress is real and authentic because he has lived the situations he portrays. They all fight the dragon for us, one way or another. They all stand between us and that unimaginable range of horrors.

IMAGE CREDITS: All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!