Rescuing the Rescuers: Trying to prevent first responder suicide

(WSVN) - We often hear about hero firefighters and first responders, but what we don’t hear about is how seeing tragedy firsthand can affect them. And now there’s a program specifically designed to help the people who help us. 7’s Vanessa Medina has our Nightteam special assignment report, “Rescuing the Rescuers.”

When tragedy strikes, firefighters are often first on the scene and the last to leave. But when the fire hose is wrapped up and the ladders put away, many firefighters can’t forget the horrible images.

Diana Sandell: “He, umm, yeah, he definitely — he hid it well. He hid it well, from me and from his fire department brothers and his closest friends and his family.”

Diana’s husband, Rich, was a Pompano Beach firefighter for 18 years. He shot and killed himself this past March. She was pregnant at the time with their son.

Diana Sandell: “Never in a million years would I think that he would ever do that to himself, ever.”

For the men and women who are committed to saving others, sometimes they can’t save themselves. Eighty-three firefighters and paramedics have committed suicide so far this year in the U.S. Nine of them were from Florida.

The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, which tracks the deaths, believes only 40 percent of suicides are even reported.

Coral Springs Fire Capt. Christopher Bator: “I firmly know we can’t stop every one of them, but if we can put information out there, that’s better than doing nothing.”

That’s why Coral Springs Fire Capt. Christopher Bator and his team began the South Florida Regional Safety and Health Collaborative, to address not only general health issues, but the rise in suicides by first responders.

Capt. Christopher Bator: “These are big issues, whether we’re talking about suicide or cancer. These are issues we can’t deal with by ourselves.”

The collaborative is a first step in finding the solutions.

Capt. Christopher Bator: “Talking to each other, and getting this information out, and having all of our resources together under our collaborative is only going to make all of us stronger.”

Diana says she doesn’t know if having someone to talk to would have changed things for her husband, but she hopes it will for others.

Diana Sandell: “There’s a stigma around firemen talking. There’s a stigma around firemen reaching out for help, and there’s a stigma around suicide in general, and I want to break that barrier down and say, ‘It’s OK to talk about it.'”

There is a free online mental health evaluation available online. Capt. Bator is hoping that first responders go online and fill it out. If they fall into that dangerous mental health category, he hopes that they seek help immediately.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance

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