Fire Fighter Suicide and Behavioral Health Are Becoming a Concern to the Fire Service.
Part III: Pathway to Awareness and Prevention for Fire Fighter Suicide and Behavioral Health and Wellness
For years, the fire service has recognized that organized, formal training and education have led to consistently well-trained fire fighters in North America. This consistency is obtained from established, time-tested standards, most notably NFPA 1001, Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications. The job performance requirements in NFPA 1001 center specifically on the physical tasks of the job. However, the realization that the mental aspects of fire fighters need to be recognized and focused is becoming clearer and more prevalent. The adoption of training programs and certification need to be institutionalized, for the same reasons the tasks of safe ascent on ladders are learned, precise search and rescue techniques are used at an incident, and maintenance of tools and equipment are vital to readiness. The same should hold true for fire fighters’ behavioral health and mental wellness. Awareness and prevention of fire fighter suicide and behavioral health and wellness should begin at the entry level during recruit training.
A substantive fire fighter suicide prevention and behavioral health and wellness training program has to focus on the following areas:
- Identifying signs and symptoms of emotional and behavioral health distress, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and challenging circumstances to situations typically not encountered
- Developing and sustaining a peer support group
- Seeking established professional mental health services or crisis care tailored to the fire service and/or public safety
- Recognizing how mental health practices fit into overall health and aid in preventative mental health self-care, including sleep, stress management, resilience, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution
- Utilizing awareness level training and education in emotional and behavioral health distress situations
- Upholding a means of confidentiality
- Maintaining open lines of communication
- Appreciating non-judgmental aspects
- Assisting in a referral process
The documented cases of fire fighter suicide indicate that contributing factors ultimately led the fire fighters to take their lives. In many situations, if help had been available, it might have helped prevent a suicide. Fire fighters often mask their distress, and those around them do not see the subtleties that otherwise would initiate an intervention process; without awareness training, the warning signs of possible suicide can be difficult to recognize. Whether it is anxiety, depression, PTSD resulting from one incident or a series of events, a combination of family-life, divorce, or financial hardship, there are signs that indicate assistance is needed. It’s no longer a matter of “Suck it up and deal with it!” It’s time to deliver fire fighter suicide, behavioral health and mental well-being awareness and prevention programs at the fire fighter level.