Deaths of first responders to suicide, increased depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other symptoms of mental health trauma have led some fire department leaders to change the way they want to see their peers cope with the often stressful and heartbreaking job.
“Tradition is you just suck it up and go about your day, and just let it go,” Lakeland Fire Department Lt. Phil Green said Tuesday as the agency rolled out training for peer support last week.
Green, 36, was one of those peers chosen to take the training in an effort to be a sounding board for fellow firefighters. At 14 years in fire services, he said now that the awareness is there, he hopes people speak up when they need to talk.
The peer support model is a program offered through the Florida Firefighters Safety & Health Collaborative and recognizes that firefighters tend to trust fellow firefighters far more because of their shared experiences, said LFD spokeswoman Janel Vasallo.
“The Lakeland Fire Department wants to ensure its firefighters, along with others in the region, have access to the resources and expertise needed to prevent a first responder from ever having to suffer through mental health issues on their own,” said Vasallo.