Organizations address first responders and their mental health

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Our first responders are faced with a number of stressors beyond what the general population faces.

From long shifts, battling fires, to saving lives, each call is unpredictable.

Dr. Steve Nicholas is a national certified counselor and an in house clinician for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.

"They're taught to be strong and to be on task and to continuously perform," said Dr. Nicholas. "However, when does that person tip over and be overwhelmed and get help in their own way?"

That's why Northern Nevada Peer Support Network and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance are teaching local clinicians and chaplains about awareness and treatment.

Kassi Humphreys, a marriage and family counselor intern.

"So this is my way of trying to give back to the community in that sense and get a better understanding of working with first responders and what they do on a day to day basis," said Humphreys."

Today's meeting highlights a four hour session exploring first responder culture, sensitivity and even suicide rate, but these are issues that go beyond a day's training.

Jeff Dill is the founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.

The organization started collecting data about first responder suicides in 2010.

"When we're challenged in our own personal lives, we tend to unfortunately handle things on our own," said Dill. "That turns into alcohol, depression, other issues. So having counselors out there now that understand and chaplains that understand what we do and how we respond to them is imperative. It's great progress what they're doing here in Nevada."

The organization also has a confidential suicide form.

Their intent is to be respectful as they can to those who are deceased all while collecting information to help other first responders struggling with mental health issues.

"We only estimate about a 55% reporting and in the past five years we've had more firefighter suicides than line of duty deaths which is at 100% reporting," said Dill. "These are the issues we're dealing with first and foremost marital and family relationships."

According to Dill, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance is the only organization in the United States tracking firefighter and EMS suicides.

"We have validated 1,451 including 3 dispatchers of these tragic events," explained Dill. "I've personally spoken to about 1,400 to hear the stories and methods of not just how they took their lives but how they lived."

As a retired fire captain, he's on a mission working with family survivors and conducting community outreach for firefighters across the country.

"We didn't want families to think we're alone out here," added Dill. "So the bonding and courage these families display is incredible."

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