INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One of the topics at Friday’s Indiana Emergency Response Conference was catching, treating and preventing suicide among firefighters.
Firefighters often see people on the worst days of their lives.
“Maybe they were called to provide care for a young child that died or an expecting mother that didn’t make it to the hospital,” said Dr. Michael Kaufmann, the state’s emergency medical services director for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
A Ruderman Family Foundation study in 2018 found police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in line of duty. The study says at least 103 firefighter suicides were recorded nationwide in 2017. That outpaced firefighter line-of-duty deaths that year.
Overtime, all the trauma that firefighters experience adds up.
“It’s like a backpack,” said Dennis Doan, the Boise, Idaho, fire chief who spoke at the conference. “You’re just putting a rock in your backpack each and every time. If we don’t take some of those rocks out, then that backpack’s just going to get too heavy.”
Doan said knows what that feels like. In March, one of Doan’s firefighters took his own life at a fire station.
“Telling his family that day is one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced,” Doan said. “Not only that, I lost a friend. Charlie Ruffing was his name.”
He told firefighters and first responders that they should not feel weak for seeking help to face the trauma.
“That’s what we’re trying to do is to break down that stigma, that it’s OK to not be OK.” Doan said.
Indiana’s emergency medical services director for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said finding a way to deal with that stress before it reaches a critical level and triggers depression and suicidal ideation is “critically important.”
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security offers a suicide awareness course to help address post-traumatic stress among first responders.
The department’s Kauffman said, “I think the more we talk about it, the more we socialize it, the more we encourage people to share their emotions to talk about their feelings. Debrief those critical stressful moments that happen every day. The more we do that, the more we’ll help to combat this problem.”
The conference began Monday and ends Saturday at the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing.