More firefighters are dying of suicide than in the line of duty, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
What Are The Numbers?
In 2018, 64 firefighters died doing their job while 82 died of suicide. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance believes that only 40 percent of firefighter suicides are even reported.
Of the 64 firefighters who died on duty, 25 died in a fire emergency, while five died responding to a non-fire emergency. Training amounted for 11 of the deaths, and 10 lost their lives responding or returning from an emergency call. The remaining 13 firefighters died while involved in a variety of normal station, administrative or maintenance activities.
What Is Being Done Locally?
In Northeast Georgia, firefighters and law enforcement officers in Barrow, Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties are going through training to help combat these first responder suicide rates. The Public Information Officer for Barrow County Emergency Services, Captain Scott Dakin, explained that they have a critical stress management team that helps firefighters, law enforcement and others when there’s been a really traumatic call. Right now, they are getting ready to train some of their command staff so that they understand what it is and what signs to look for.
Nationally [Suicide] is on the rise, but it needs to be a local solution. We are a brotherhood. we need to start acting like the brotherhood we say and start taking care of ourselves,” says Dakin.
Dakin reflected on when he was first starting out as a firefighter how the mentality was “don’t talk about it, it will go away,” which in his experience doesn’t work.
What Is Being Done Nationally?
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) sites job stress as the most likely contributing factor. USFA states that due to the near constant exposure to death and destruction, PTSD and depression rates in first responders are around five times higher than civilians.
The stigma of mental illness within fire and police organizational culture can stop people from seeking help,” According to the USFA.
National organizations have developed hotlines that can be used by local departments: Fire/EMS hotline: 1-888-731-FIRE (3473) and Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Katie Anderson is a senior majoring in journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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