‘Firestrong’ responds to string of suicides within firefighter communities
Feb. 7, 2018
In order to address the rise in suicides within their community, the Phoenix Fire Department created s mental health referral sight for firefighters/
Known as Firestrong, the mental health resource website generates over 8,000 hits monthly and is used by 60 fire departments with over 500 peers. This referral site allows the firefighters to remain anonymous when seeking help.
Various kinds of counseling is available from marriage to depression. Some of the peers were trained as counselors and talk to other peers who are asking for help. Vice President of Member Services for United Phoenix Ray Maione says the site started working better when they found out firefighters like talking to other firefighters.
The website led to the making of a documentary of the same name by Alicia Marie Productions. A trailer for the documentary can be seen below, and the full film can be accessed for free here.
“Firefighters in general, their profession is that they are helpers and problem-solvers,” Kerry Ramella, director of Behavioral Health Programs for Phoenix Fire Local 493, says. “So when they have some type of an issue going on they typically just figure out they’ll be able to take care of it themselves. So they don’t typically reach out as quickly as someone else might reach out to get some help.”
Firefighters work 24-hour shifts every third day, not including overtime, for a 20 to 30-year careers. The lifestyle affects their sleep and overall health. Ramella says the number one killer of firefighters is heart disease.
Maione says firefighters have a mental bucket, with sleep deprivation and emotional stress constantly filling the bucket. A firefighter must remember to take a break when they need to so they can empty the bucket. However, Maione says almost every firefighter faces the problem of not reaching out until they are in a crisis, even then some might not reach out.
Phoenix Fire Department Chief Wade Kline says you can’t become a firefighter if all you want to do is fight fires, because you will be miserable with your job and be a miserable person to work with. According to Kline, around 90 percent of the calls they receive are emergency medical calls for situations like difficulty breathing, chest pain, diabetic problems and the like. While those situations are placing them in the danger of an inferno, they have to deal with a lot of people who aren’t willing to help themselves and Maione says it can be a frustrating process to go through.
“There’s no script, so you never know what you’re coming into when you show up to work that day,” Maione says.