You are brave, strong, and committed to helping others, but these qualities also prevent some firefighters from seeking mental health help.
Dave Gillotte is a Los Angeles County Fire Brigade Chief and President of the Firefighters Union, which was heavily involved in funding mental health resources in 2017.
“I would be the first to tell you that there are days when I have said that I am good, I am totally good, I have this because I take care of my crew,” he said. “We couldn’t look the other way in 2017 when suicide became the number one cause of death for firefighters over all other causes.”
Suicide rates and stress levels are high for first responders because they see more death and destruction than the rest of us and are reluctant to talk about it.
“We are working hard to break this stigma both personally within the firefighter family and externally, where it becomes normal for firefighters to seek help, to know that they are human,” he added.
The LA County Fire Department now offers regular suicide prevention training and a strong peer support program.
“Peer support is simply a system of our peers with a higher level of education to connect us, to understand the emotions, the effects of what we might deal with and how to deal with them, but also to get additional support when required.”
While the exact motive for Tuesday’s murder-suicide is not clear, for some in the department it is a sign that much more needs to be done.
“Instruments or proactive responses, in my opinion, are the direction we are going to move, as well as indicators for looking at the stress level and ways of dealing with it. This is a big job that has not yet been completed, ”said Gillote.
His hope is that the next generation of firefighters will not go through the grief the department is now experiencing by speaking openly about the problem, removing the stigma, and being proactive.