MINOCQUA - Seeing fire, death, and destruction over and over can stay with you for a long time.
Sometimes, those images and feelings never go away.
Joe Batholomew can't forget one of the worst fires he saw over his 33 years as a firefighter in Illinois.
"The fire was on top of us and I told my guys that it was time for us to get out," said Bartholomew.
He made it out physically okay, but he started feeling off after that day in 2004.
"They said it was natural, so I blew it off and said, 'Okay' and thought there was no problem," Bartholomew said.
But there was a problem. Bartholomew kept having mood swings, anger issues and nightmares.
"We were in a car wash and when the soap came and covered the windows, all of a sudden, his arms stiffened like two-by-fours, and I looked over and I asked him what was wrong and again, all of a sudden, he said he thought he went back to that fire," said Joe's wife, Liz.
Joe was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
The Bartholomews know they aren't the only family dealing with PTSD. After moving to Sugar Camp in 2012, they decided to start a first-responders' retreat in Minocqua so that anyone dealing with PTSD can come find help.
"When we moved up here and I saw how Joe was healing, I thought, 'Boy, we should be able to offer that to other people," Liz said.
They have a property in mind where they hope to build the retreat, and now they need help with donations.
Joe says that getting out of a big city where there are more noises, sights, and smells that can trigger his PTSD helped him, and he thinks it can help others.
"The biggest thing is being able to talk to people who have been through the same things you have. To know you're not alone," said Joe.
The Bartholomews started a non-profit and hope to start the first-responders' retreat as soon as possible. If you would like to help them with donations and learn more about the retreat, follow the link below.
First Responders Retreat