Firefighter Suicide and Behavioral Health Are Becoming a Concern to the Fire Service.
Part I: Recognizing the Need for Awareness and Prevention of Firefighter Suicide and for Behavioral Health Research
Mental health and suicide prevention awareness have long been topics that have been swept under the carpet and thought to have no place in the fire service. Challenged with the increasing awareness of fire fighter and EMT suicide, several organizations—including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Fighters, and National Fallen Fire Fighters—are conducting campaigns to raise awareness to this problem. The National Fire Protection Association has collected various research studies associated with fire service behavioral health and mental wellness. NFPA’s effort will continue to focus attention on awareness and prevention and to increase consciousness of fire fighter suicide and behavioral health and well-being. As the standards development authority for the fire service, NFPA’s emphasis will continue to highlight the need for behavioral health and mental wellness practices.
Fire service personnel perform duties and serve the community with the intentional effort of making a situation safe and delivering assistance, whether it’s a residential structure fire or a medical care concern. There are not many occupations where the public is served and the expectations are as high as with the public safety sector (law enforcement, fire service, and emergency medical service). Along with serving the community, first responders come across many situations that affect the community and individuals they serve, but many times there are underlying circumstances that are not readily apparent. Fire fighters are not immune to these same types of circumstances. Not only are they caring for and providing assistance to individuals, they are still human beings with their own life situations. There are times when it is easy to disassociate from an incident to which they've responded. But there are other times when a connection can directly affect the mental well-being and behavioral health of the fire fighter.
Suicide is not a direct result of having responded to an incident but rather the end of a series of evolutionary behavioral health ideations, which can include variables such as alcoholism, anxiety, depression, and drug abuse. These tendencies can be caused by a single threat to mental wellness or a series of cumulative events, including but not limited to a traumatic incident leading to PTSD, divorce, family economics, elderly care of a family member, and military service experiences.
While the research on fire fighter suicide and behavioral health is limited, significant topics are being explored. For an annotated bibliography of those research projects, navigate to: http://www.nfpa.org/ffsuicideawareness and follow the other four blogs “Firefighter Suicide and Behavioral Health Are Becoming a Concern to the Fire Service.”