The fire service is great at remembering anniversaries. We celebrate when organizations were founded, when we got hired, when we got promoted and when one of our own dies in the line of duty. It’s a day to reflect and a day to remember.
Yesterday was an anniversary. Not a good one though. Yesterday marks three years since I witnessed firsthand a firefighter suicide. Other guys remembered too. It caused me to reflect on that individual, his life, the year we spent together assigned to the same house.
It wasn’t the same though. No memorial, nothing to record one of the nameless firefighter suicides that seem to have become more common in the fire service as of late.
This leads me to wonder why we only remember in silence. A few months after our brother’s death, there was talk of a memorial sticker for the apparatus. Some thought it was a good idea, other didn’t. I remember one guy saying “so we put a sticker up there. Someone asks who he was and how he died. We say suicide. How do we answer that?”
It’s a tough question. I don’t know the answer. Whether or not the job was the only contributing factor, somehow it was a factor. We have to acknowledge it.
I realize suicide is still a taboo subject. It may be considered to be a sign of weakness or selfishness. But the numbers are staggering. Since 2012, there have been 810 firefighter suicides in the United States alone. In that same time period, 379 firefights have dies in the line of duty. That’s a 2.1:1 ratio and that ratio could even be higher as no formal data tracking system exists for firefighter suicides.
The fire service can no longer ignore these numbers. I am elated to see how firefighter behavioral health websites that pop up in a Google search then there were a year ago when I was seeking help.
But I ask are we being proactive or reactive to this problem? Are the resources currently available enough to truly make a difference? So we teach suicide prevention of all firefighters, what then? Are the resources in place to get help, the RIGHT kind of help to those who need it?
My fear is this; that every major national organization that represents firefighters will draft and implement a program. But we talk about sharing resources in the fire service. Why don’t those organizations come together, have the best of best meet to come up with a real solution. A start (prevention) to finish (referral to the right help) program.
I am no mental health professional. I’m just a guy who has seen what a firefighter suicide does, the aftereffects. I’m a guy who has contemplated suicide more than once because of what the job has left in me. WE CAN DO BETTER! WE MUST DO BETTER!