Firefighters see people on their worst days and manage to keep it together. But, behind closed doors, some firefighters are battling their own mental health. And more firefighters are dying at their own hands than in the line of duty.
We spoke to South Trail Fire & Rescue District firefighters Friday about how they are focusing on their mental health.
Captain Rick Martinez says every firefighter remembers his or her worst call. He certainly remembers his.
“Twelve-year-old girl and her car rolled over and she went through the sunroof,” Martinez said. “And, when we got there, she was still moving. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t, here wasn’t any viable patient left.”
Startling new statistics estimate twice as many firefighters in America die by suicide than in the line of duty.
“There are just some things that humans are not meant to see,” Martinez said.
We talked about PTSD and asked firefighters what can be done to help.
“In the past in the fire service, it wasn’t okay to talk about things and come back and sit at the table and lay your heart out,” said firefighter Dusty Turner with South Trail. “But, right now, we’re kind of experiencing a culture change.”
Fire officials across the country are looking at cutting back on two and three-day shifts. They say that will help firefighters get more sleep and downtime. South Trail firefighters generally work one-day shifts.
The firefighters say it’s a cultural change to help those who need it to seek help.
“When we sit at the dinner table, it’s like sacred time,” Martinez said. “Because indirectly you’re diffusing, and you’re getting it off your chest. And still fulfilling that “many role” but you’re getting it out. It’s a form of therapy
It encourages firefighters to talk about mental health together.
“It’s just a matter of letting down that shield we create,” Martinez said. “And whether it be a man thing or just a cultural thing in the fire department, we have to learn to bring down that wall. And reach out for help.”