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Can You Spot a Cry for Help?

Spotting and Responding to Mental Health Issues

Pop quiz! A fellow firefighter comes up to you and says they are having some chest pain and it’s hard to catch their breath. What do you do? Pretty simple. We all know it could be a heart attack, and you are going to make sure they get to the ER probably by ambulance.  

What if the same fellow firefighter comes up to you and says, “I haven’t been sleeping very well after that response the other day.” Typically, they are outgoing and cheerful but suddenly seem withdrawn. Now what do you do?  

Not so simple, right? However, it is becoming more common in fire stations across the country. Over the last several years, we have seen more firefighter suicides than line of duty deaths. PTSD has become a very real issue.  

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention held a Public Safety Summit recently with all the key emergency service players in attendance. The event included representatives from the IAFC, IAFF, IACP, the police union, military, and national mental health experts. From this summit, work will be started to have PTSD recognized as a presumptive illness. Stand by; this could be the next legislative battleground. 

In the meantime, what do you do when that firefighter approaches you with a mental health issue, or you start to recognize the signs in a fellow firefighter? Will you recognize those signs and know what to do? That is why every firefighter needs to read the Yellow Ribbon Report (YRR) published by the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section of the IAFC. 

The cumulative stress overload of our job, volunteer, or career can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addictions, and suicide. The YRR helps identify the causes and triggers for these stressors, signs, and outlines symptoms to look for when someone is suffering from emotional issues. Furthermore, it describes ways we can avoid developing these problems, and where we can turn when one of our fellow first responders or we can no longer deal with the issues alone.  

We must acknowledge and seek to genuinely understand the ongoing emotional impact of our job–which we love–on our health and well-being. Download the Yellow Ribbon Report today.

Already have it? Take it off the shelf, read it, and pass it around. Our lives depend on it. 

Chief Ed Rush is fire chief of the Hartsdale (New York) Fire Department and a VCOS At-large Board Member  

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