Firemen have been heroes for as long as there have been firemen. They respond when people are in trouble, not just when a house is on fire, but other emergencies that occur from natural disasters, weather events, or accidents. No one questions their bravery; these are the men and women who run toward danger, the people who risk their lives for strangers.
They are the ones who come when we need help, but who do firefighters turn to when they're overwhelmed with the stress they encounter on the job?
It's not their personal safety that causes their distress. They witness unimaginable things that would traumatize the average person, and they see them over and over in the course of their job. They are haunted by scenes of tragedy, it's not only the ones they save, it's the ones who can't be saved. Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often follow.
Many firefighters are wary of seeking mental health help because of the stigma; they don't want to appear weak or to be judged. They may find escape in alcohol or drugs and - sadly - suicide has become a rising statistic among firefighters.
When five firefighters from the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department took their own lives within six months in 2010, Captain Ray Malone knew something had to be done. "When you start losing members, we need to look at this." Providing resources for the men and women of his department became a priority.
Firefighters were introduced to Firestrong.org, an online community of departments from around the U.S. and Canada, where they can find assessment, peer support, chaplains, access to education and a 24 hour hotline, and more. The FireFighter Behavioral Health Alliance is a similar organization offering confidential assistance to firefighters struggling with mental health issues arising from work-related experiences.
Firefighters, EMS and all first responders deserve the support of the communities they serve and the respect of all of us. Suicide prevention among these professionals is imperative to improve the quality of life for those who put their lives on the line for others.
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