The Continuing Crisis of Firefighter Suicide
The issue of firefighter suicide continues to be a crisis level problem in many cities. The gravity of the problem has caused many departments and municipalities to begin a serious conversation about firefighter suicide. Considering two unique variables that are already in place within the fire service can contribute greatly to the discussion and possibly to the path of a solution.
The first variable is the caring culture of the fire service. We are taught early in our careers that we are a family. We are also taught to look out for our brothers and sister firefighters. The Indianapolis Fire Department (as well as the former townships) has a long history of taking care of our own. The bottom line in this effort is to pay attention to your crew. Chief Malone and Local 416 are committed to this task. This means that our leaders are prepared to help us in looking out for each other. IFD line officers set the tone in the firehouses for each crew. All officers need to lead in a way that encourages taking care of each other. I can say with great certainty that firefighters will follow the lead of a company officer in enabling a family atmosphere supportive of taking care of your own. Firefighters of a crew have a unique vantage point in this process. We live with our coworkers for extended periods of time. Therefore, we are in a much better place to look after each other. An example in the firehouse might be to pay attention to changes in the station. Who is no longer eating with the group or isolating from the crew? Has a firefighter's sleeping habits changed? Who in the crew is experiencing crisis (such as divorce) at this time?
A second variable is the function of our IFD Peer Support Group in this effort. The IFD PSG is more than just the folks who visit the fire station after an acute incident. The Peer Support group is a good tool for firefighters and officers to use before any problems start. For example, peers from the team could come to the fire station to assist with a discussion about alcohol and drug treatment. The IFD Peer Support Group is continuing to visit fire stations and are trained to guide firefighters to appropriate behavioral health information. Getting someone to reach out is the first step, guiding them to the right assistance is the second step.
Any crew can request the IFD Peer Support Group to visit the fire house. Our peers are most effective in engaging firefighters. This is NOT forcing the crew into a training room for a mandatory class. Rather, it is sitting at the kitchen table with the officers and crew who opt to listen. In my experience with station visits, we get more firefighters to interact with us because we DO NOT force the crews to participate in the conversation. Specifically, we find that many firefighters are open to a conversation about behavioral health wellness and finding out that there are resources available that are specific to their needs. IFD Peer Support teams can direct firefighters to suicide resources like The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance website (ffbha.org). I have included a list of resources below from the NFPA Journal.
Another point to mention on this important topic involves the lack of research data that has been conducted in this area. We learn new protocols every year from the research that is conducted nationally (and internationally) concerning safety, fire suppression and EMS. How to address firefighter suicide will come from this same type of research.
Fortunately, organizations like the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) are starting to mobilize the fire service in calling for a need for this type of research. The FBHA was started by Palatine Rural Protection District (IL) Battalion Chief Jeff Dill. He has advocated both nationally and internationally about the crisis of firefighter suicide. The FBHA website is a resource that every firefighter should consult.
In closing, please help us help each other with this effort to reduce firefighter suicide. It is essential that we as the IFD/Local 416 family become engaged in this fight. The first step in this fight is prevention. Please contact me or any member of the IFD Peer Support Group if you would like further help with this issue. As always please be safe!
Online behavioral health resources for emergency responders
suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Launched in 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Mental Health Association of New York City, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential 24/7 support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
The document information page for NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, includes chapters titled “Behavioral Health and Wellness Programs” and “Occupational Exposure to Atypically Stressful Events.”
This site includes information on the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance and on training workshops, a suicide questionnaire, and how to report firefighter and emergency medical service suicides.
The website for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation “Everyone Goes Home” program offers resources for officer training, peer-support, and behavioral health issues in the fire and EMS services.
The National Volunteers Fire Council website offers reports, online training, and other resources for first responders.
IMPACT is an evidence-based depression care program developed at the University of Washington, including tools, manuals, and videos on depression treatment.
Counseling Services for Firefighters includes resources for training senior officers and clinicians for working with first responders.
The website of the Fire Service Survivor Network includes resources for families and coworkers of firefighters killed in the line of duty.nvfc.org/help 1-888-731-FIRE (347
nvfc.org/help 1-888-731-FIRE (3473)
This free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to members of the fire, EMS, and rescue services and their families.
The Uniformed Service Program includes specialized trauma and addiction treatment for law enforcement, fire, military (active and veterans), EMS, and corrections personnel.
A website run by the Badge of Life Police Mental Health Foundation and devoted to the psychological health of police officers nationwide.