Number of Suicides Greater than Line-of-Duty Deaths in Fire Service
77 so far in 2015.
105 in 2014.
68 in 2013.
70 in 2012.
These are the numbers of firefighters who lost their lives to confirmed suicide, according to the Firefighters Behavioral Health Alliance. Actual numbers may be higher. Comparatively, the U.S. Fire Administration reports that we have lost fewer firefighters so far in 2015 to deaths in the line of duty — 60 firefighters so far. This is how the numbers stack up most years; there are significantly more deaths due to suicide among firefighters than deaths that occur in the line of duty.
It’s not a problem that the general public or even families of firefighters are often aware of, but awareness is growing. The good news is that some suicides may be prevented when firefighters in need seek help, and families work together with them to recognize the signs and help them connect with treatment.
Do You Need to Talk to Someone?
Depression. Nightmares. Flashbacks. Anger episodes. Irritability. Lack of emotion. Memory loss. These are just some of the issues that can signify a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common disorder among firefighters that can greatly increase the risk for suicide. There are different types of symptoms that can translate into a PTSD diagnosis, but in general, if you are experiencing any intrusive symptoms of anxiety or depression, changes in personality, avoiding certain places or activities that remind you of a trauma, or having a hard time maintaining happy and positive relationships at home — and especially if you are having any thoughts of suicide — the time to reach out to talk to someone about it is now.
Would Your Firefighter Benefit from Support?
Loved ones of firefighters in need may notice moodiness or irritability. They may be drinking a lot more or using other drugs. They may not be accessible emotionally, or they may not even be home much of the time when they aren’t on shift. You may just notice some changes in personality, distance that has grown over time, and seen symptoms like sleep disruption, changes in eating habits, and depression. They may have made comments about ending their lives, or they may have voiced the opinion that there was nothing to live for, that they feel hopeless, or that nothing matters.
Any of these signs can indicate that your loved one needs help. The good news is that there are a number of different resources available to firefighters and their families.
Depending upon your circumstance and what makes you feel most comfortable, there are various different ways to get help. These include:
- The lieutenant or someone else in the department who may know of local programs
- The National Volunteer Fire Council’s Share the Load program, a 24-hour hotline for firefighters in need of help (888–731-FIRE)
- Others who are experiencing the same thing and reaching out through social media sources
- Personal therapy that is confidential and individual
Increased awareness has helped firefighters in need of support to connect with the help necessary to begin the healing process. There is always someone to talk to — especially at the 24-hour helpline — anytime of the day or night.