Fire fighter suicide: Tragedy that doesn’t need to happen

Blog Post created by mikehazell Employee on Feb 25, 2014
!http://lbackstrom.typepad.com/.a/6a014e86dfab17970d01a3fcc5e5a8970b-450wi|src=http://lbackstrom.typepad.com/.a/6a014e86dfab17970d01a3fcc5e5a8970b-450wi|alt=Suicide chart|style=width: 450px;|title=Suicide chart|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a014e86dfab17970d01a3fcc5e5a8970b img-responsive!
Fig. 1 Suicides by Year - credit to Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.


<br />“He was a good guy!”, “He was always there.”, “I’ll miss him.”, “He was a fire fighters fire fighter!”

These are just a few of the comments that were spoken at a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD)* for a fire fighter who recently retired from the service.


“I’ll remember him as the guy helped me learn what I know about the fire service and helped me get through recruit training,”, “He was hard on me but for good reason.”, “I’m pissed!”, “I’ll remember him as a friend.”

Why CISD… because Mike died suddenly and tragically a few weeks ago. Not because of cancer, not because of old age, but because he took his life!

We’ll never know exactly what the circumstances were behind the tragic ending. We can say with certainty that it wasn’t for his lack of love for Sue, his wife. That relationship was a model for everyone to admire. Mike and Sue loved each other and they loved their dogs. They hiked together. They did everything together. They just finished building a new home. She helped him through some pretty difficult times.

It might have been that the job finally ‘got to him’. It might have been that he didn’t have the job any longer, except as a memory. What’s noteworthy, is the different ways many of us who were at CISD expressed our emotions. One in particular may have caught your attention: “I’m pissed!”

This came from one of the new firefighters, but also a veteran of Afghanistan, and he’s seen what emotions can play out when under tremendous stress. He was pissed because he didn’t see it, Mike’s death, coming. Many knew that Mike was leaving the fire service after nearly 25 years. Many knew that he was seeking help. Many knew that he was leaving not because he wanted to. But many also thought that he had been preparing himself and was ready for the transition to civilian life. This guy was upset because he couldn’t do anything to help Mike.

This is not a eulogy. This is not a means to vent. This is not where this needs to end! This blog is to make all of us in the fire service and in public safety aware of the stresses of the job or home life or a combination and to say something, Out Loud, Early! Don’t hold it in, don’t be a hero. Get the help from others who have been there, from the professionals like EAP, and from the department chaplain.

There appears to be limited resources and information on the topic of Fire Fighter Suicide. I’ve listed a few below. Feel free to add to the list by leaving a comment below:

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance: http://www.ffbha.org/

Uniformed Service Program: http://www.brattlebororetreat.org/usp

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation: http://www.firehero.org/

National Volunteers Fire Council: http://nvfc.org/files/documents/ff_suicide_report.pdf


* NFPA 1500 +Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program +chapters on Behavioral Health and Wellness Programs and Occupational Exposure to Atypically Stressful Events

-[Tom McGowan | mailto:tmcgowan@nfpa.org]