CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Lowcountry fire departments are mourning the loss of two firefighters who died in recent suicides.
An organization that tracks first responder suicides says the increase in suicides is a troubling trend. Travis Howze was a Charleston firefighter at the time of the Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine of his fellow firefighters in 2007. Howze responded to the fire.
“I was in that building that night. I had to locate all of my fallen brothers and I had to go in and help identify them. And that will completely rewire somebody’s brain,” Howze said.
Howze says he came down with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the fire and wanted to kill himself.
“And actually got to a point where I had a gun in my mouth pulling the trigger, dry firing it. And the last straw with that was when I loaded the weapon and I racked it,” Howze said. “I took a swig of whiskey and shoved the gun in my mouth to the point, I started crying, and slobbering on it. I knew this was it. I didn’t want to live anymore.”
Howze decided to get help for his PTSD.
After hearing about the two recent suicides of a Charleston and North Charleston firefighter, Howze decided it’s time to spread more awareness about first responder suicides.
“I think we’re seeing increased numbers because the culture still exists where we are too proud as a culture, firefighters and police officers and paramedics, to reach out for help. That’s why I’m telling my story,” Howze said.
According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, first responder and EMT suicides are on the rise. The alliance says nationwide in 2018, 116 suicides were reported.
In 2019, 140 were reported. So far this year, 87 suicides have been reported.
In South Carolina in 2018 and 2019 five suicides were reported. So far this year, four have been reported.
Longtime chaplain Rev. Rob Dewey works with first responders and their families. Dewey has heard stories first hand about issues.
“The danger, the pay, the shift work, the family stresses, all those things are gonna add up if you don’t get help. It’s gonna start weighing on you and you’re gonna be in the pluff mud,” Dewey said.
Howze has a message for all first responders.
“It’s okay to not be okay and there’s no shame in reaching out and asking for help.”
Howze is now a motivational speaker who travels around the country.