Local Firefighters Placing Emphasis on their Mental Health


Albert Pefley


Twice as many firefighters in this country die by suicide than in the line of duty.

Now, fire departments are sounding the alarm.

Experts say firefighters face a lot of pressures and sometimes it can become too much. While they’re busy looking out for others, sometimes they’re not looking out enough for themselves.

When a firefighter rushes out to a call, they are sometimes confronted with situations that would be disturbing to anyone.

Burn victims, violent car crashes, shootings, stabbings, injuries and suffering which, thankfully, most people will never experience.

“We see some of the worst incidents out there that normal people just don’t see day to day, and we see it multiple times a day,” St. Lucie County Fire District Chief Aaron Shaw said. “Everybody gets stressed out and it can just become a point where it’s too much.”

Last year, reported suicides among active and retired firefighters nationwide accounted for nearly twice as many deaths as those killed in the line of duty.

In Palm Beach County, Boynton Beach Fire Rescue lost one of their own to suicide in October. Some of his fellow firefighters now wear his number on their helmets as a reminder to look out for themselves and each other.

“We try not to take our work home with us, but what we see is in our memory banks and that might spill over to when we get home,” Chief Shaw said.

Shaw says it can be hard to know what’s going on in someone else’s head, but they can be alert to warning signs like trouble sleeping, nightmares, irritability and a sense of isolation.

It’s clear the stress from the job can lead a firefighter to contemplate taking their own life. But now everyone is focused on breaking that cycle.

“We want firefighters, first responders to know that it’s okay that things aren’t OK,” Shaw said. “It’s OK to talk, it’s okay to seek out help, that you’re not the only one struggling.”

There is some hope though; all new firefighters in this department have to go through a two-hour orientation on mental health awareness, long before they ever climb aboard a fire truck or put on a helmet.

This article was originally published here:  https://cbs12.com/news/local/firefighters-placing-emphasis-on-their-mental-health

About Al Pefley

Al Pefley is a general assignment reporter for WPEC CBS 12. He was born in Austin, Minn. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Iowa State University, and a Master of Arts degree in Journalism-Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

Prior to joining CBS 12 in 1989, Al was a reporter at television stations in Cedar Rapids, Tampa, Louisville and Jacksonville. He enjoys running, rollerblading and golf. In 1992 he ran in the New York City Marathon; and then the Walt Disney World Marathon in 1994 and 1995. He also took part in the Chicago Marathon in 1998. He has also participated in a number of long distance bicycle races, including rides that crossed the entire state of Florida in 1992 and 1998.

Al is single and resides in Palm Beach County.