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Crisis Hotline Hopes To Decrease Firefighter Suicide


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Crisis Hotline Hopes To Decrease Firefighter Suicide 


By Heidi Hatch
(KUTV) Suicide rates among first responders are on the rise. Firefighters tasked to save the lives of others are taking their own lives at alarming rates. At home, we don't often think of what happens behind the scenes and after a tragedy sinks from the headlines--but those traumas are real and our fire fighters can't un-see what they've seen. Sadly, serving means surviving.

The mass murder of 26 people in Connecticut this past week will not only live on with the families left behind but the first responders who walked through the unthinkable. Imagine the horror they saw and the sleepless nights with those images resurfacing in their dreams.

Captain Michael Fox works with the Salt Lake City Fire Department; it has been his life for 14 years. He is a husband and father. But at work he lists off what he responds to. Everything from "house fires, car wrecks, heart attacks but we're also responsible for weapons of mass destruction, hazmat teams, technical rescues." You name it, he's seen it.

Don't get him wrong he says. "We love what we do, we love helping people. But there are a lot of times you take your work home and people outside the line of work don't understand."

And so these brave, tough men and women carry the burdens of many. To give you an idea, Fox lists off the numbers. "Chicago Fire Department two years ago had 7 firefighters in 18 months commit suicide. Phoenix had 5 firefighters in 6 months commit suicide."

The numbers are staggering and in Utah we're not immune. In the last two years, in the Salt Lake Valley alone, 5 firefighters have taken their own lives. In Utah we know tragedy. Think about the Crandall Canyon mine collapse, the Ogden shooting that claimed the life of Officer Jared Francom and wounded 5 others, and the missing child found too late.

Captain Fox tells us, "you come to work you do the job and we don't talk about feelings."

Firefighters are supposed to be tough, and they are, but our heroes are human and they need help.

Jack Tidrow, President of the Professional Firefighters of Utah has been heavily involved in getting a suicide help line for the men and women he serves. He says, "We hope no one ever needs it. It's there, and if they use it we hope it works. So far so good." Utah firefighters now have a dedicated line for crisis prevention at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric unit or UNI-- where there is someone specially trained, ready to listen and help 24 hours a day-7 days a week-365 days a year. The line opened just a few weeks ago and already they're answering calls and saving lives. The hospital opened the line and staffs it free of charge. In the coming weeks they will be receiving further training on how to best help our first responders. It is a move Utah is making ahead of many other states. Others have paved the way, and the hope is, this will soon be the standard of care for our firefighters nationwide.

Captain Fox says it is all about a change in philosophy, a change that it is okay to seek help. It is okay to talk about things. The line is meant for firefighters but could be of use to military, paramedics and police officers all at risk of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The first step to a healthy tomorrow is making the call. Sometimes it takes a loved one at home to urge their hero to make the call. The number is 801-587-1800. The call is confidential it is free and there is hope.

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