Each year, more firefighters and emergency medical services workers are likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
That's part of of the context for "Back From the Brink," our Perspectives piece in the May/June NFPA Journal that details one firefighter's struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. The article is a hard-hitting, first-person account by Joe Kovalsky, a lieutenant with the Danbury (Connecticut) Fire Department, of his years-long battle with depression, substance abuse, anger management issues, suicidal urges, and failed attempts at outpatient treatment. Last year, he completed the in-patient program at the newly opened International Association of Fire Fighters' Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment & Recovery in Prince George's County, Maryland.
Kovalsky says that, while publicizing stories like his own can help spread awareness of the issue in the fire service, behavioral health remains a significant problem. "More people are talking about these issues and the stigma is starting to break down," he says. "But it's still there."
The subject of firefighter behavioral health will be addressed at the NFPA Conference & Expo this month in Las Vegas. Kovalsky will present an education session, "PTSD in the Fire Service: A Personal Journey," on Tuesday, June 12, at 2 p.m.
For more information on the session and on the conference, visit nfpa.org/conference.