Firefighters face emotional turmoil as they save lives
Firefighters race into harm's way to save others, but they may be too tough to get help when they need it. Now Grand Island takes steps to make sure firefighters are not just physically fit, but mentally healthy, too.
Step by step, firefighters do what many of us would find unimaginable.
When tragedy happens, it's too late to study so they rely only on their current training, but try as they might, some calls are beyond hope.
"Tend to see a lot of things that most people don't and a lot of those aren't very pleasant," said Grand Island Fire Chief Cory Schmidt.
Firefighter Phil Thomas learned early in his career that firefighters don't talk about their emotions.
"No matter how bad the call was, suck it up. It's your job," Thomas said.
But that's changing.
"What we're finding is people need to talk about it, get it off their chest," Thomas said.
Thomas is one of several Grand Island firefighters trained as a peer support team.
"We're trained to recognize signs and symptoms of PTSD and over them on to a psychiatrist or mental health professional if they need," he said.
They also benefit from a newly reformed chaplain corps.
"Be able to be there and be a source of calm and hope and as chaplains we'll look for opportunities if they want prayer or help spiritually," said Pastor Todd Bowen of Grace Covenant Church.
The department hopes to confront the mental health challenges unique to their work.
Chief Schmidt said, "Nationwide what we're seeing is we're losing more firefighters to suicide versus on the job death."
Many firefighters lose time for injuries, but some go unseen.
"Something going on in someone's head for what they've at work and some other challenges, they tend to build up and the chaplain corps that's here today is one of the pieces we use to meet our mental health needs as well," Schmidt said.
So just as they support each other as a team on each call, they take the same approach to make sure everyone goes home in a good state of mind.
Studies find police and firefighters are considerably more likely to battle depression than the general public.
The Ruderman Family Foundation commissioned a study.
Their numbers show there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides in 2017. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.
And while deaths in the job are memorialized in public, researchers believe suicide numbers are under-reported.