PTSD survivor says first responders ‘just don’t talk about it’

Author of ‘Fireproof’ turned to UCF Restores for help

Decorated battalion chief David Hollenbach is the first to admit life after more than 20 years of serving with the Orange County Fire Department Is a work in progress.

ORLANDO, Fla. – David Hollenbach is the first to admit life after more than 20 years of serving with the Orange County Fire Department Is a work in progress.

The decorated battalion chief told News 6 he made “some poor decisions” that ultimately led to his termination from the department on Nov. 27, 2019, after 23 years of service.

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Hollenbach, dressed in a light-grey suit, sat down to talk about his career, which went sideways after scenes of tragedy became one too many and triggered PTSD.

“The reaction that I have now is nothing compared to what it used to be,” Hollenbach told News 6. " My coping was drinking and chasing dopamine .”

Bad decisions in his personal life led to divorce, termination and what he calls a “special brand of nightmare” he weaves over ten chapters in his book entitled “Fireproof.”

Hollenbach said the death of a 4-year-old girl at an Orlando KinderCare back in 2014 started his reckless and emotional freefall.

The FHP report showed that a silver Dodge Durango forced a Toyota Solara convertible off the road, sending it crashing into the KinderCare Learning Center at North Goldenrod and University Boulevard just after 3 p.m. on April 14, 2014.

“I just remember seeing her and thinking to myself, that could be my daughter,” Hollenbach recalled. “Again, I won’t talk about it, but it affected me in a pretty bad way.”

People within the department told him to talk to someone, so he turned to UCF Restores, a free program for veterans and first responders.

“Looking back, I don’t know that I would have gotten the help that I needed had I not been really forced to,” he said. “I think I would have kept it hidden as long as possible.”

“Fireproof” combines Hollenbach’s personal experiences “built on ten years of notes” with what he called a grand strategy for “transforming failure into fuel for your future.”

Barry Brandon, the lead chaplain for Orange County Fire and Rescue, is the sounding board for dozens of first responders as well as a member of the UCF Restores team.

“Well, for me, it’s not limited to PTSD,” Brandon said. “Once that groundwork is set, we start talking, and they start sharing.”

Sharing is the point of “Fireproof.” As Hollenbach reminds the reader, the challenges of a first responder are real, and “sometimes they hit you out of nowhere.”

Hollenbach has started a new relationship. He is engaged to be married, and he is still very close to his daughter, whom he loves very much.

He told News 6 it was his daughter that kept him going because he wanted to be there for her.

Hollenbach said he hopes his book gives readers a door to escape the grips of PTSD, so they do not leave someone behind.

“If nothing else, if I can’t get people to not make the same mistakes as me,” he said. “At least I can be there to offer a hand up and dust them off and tell them it’s going to be OK.”

To purchase a copy of “Fireproof,” go to Hollenbach’s website here.

Hollenbach also has a podcast, titled ”From Embers to Excellence.”

If you need to contact the UCF Restores staff, visit the university’s website here.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.