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Glendale Fire bringing awareness to high rates of suicide for firefighters

PHOENIX — More firefighters died by suicide in 2017 than in the line of duty, according to a study from USA Today.

Glendale Fire Department wants to bring awareness to the statistic that shows the men and women who help save lives everyday are in desperate need of saving their own.

“We are trying to start a conversation. We want to make it OK for firefighters across the Valley to talk about this and have some action before something bad happens,” Ashley Losch, Glendale Fire public information officer, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday.

We all know firefighters are trained to be the ones that save us in desperate times of need.

But what most people don’t realize is that during each shift they’re faced with more personal difficulties, like sleep deprivation, shift work, hyper-vigilance, politics, strains on marriage and family and the guilt that comes from missing things.

All the while, there is a lingering possibility that at any given moment, they will be called to run directly into the face of danger.

“We are normal people. We just happen to have a job where we do extraordinary things every day and are placed in a position where we have to see the worst of the worst,” Losch said.

According to a recent Forbes study, less than 5 percent of fire stations across the country adequately support mental health care needs.

Losch said Glendale Fire works hard to provide as many mental health resources as it can.

“We have a sworn chaplain on staff who helps firefighters who need someone to talk to. We have member services, peer support groups, an online support that is all anonymous, plus city-based employee action programs,” she said.

The anonymous online resource is called FireStrong. It allows firefighters to reach out to other first responders across the country and talk about issues they’re facing.

Glendale Fire also uses a tracking system called Zoi that flags the number of ‘high-stress incidents’ firefighters have responded to and which firefighters have the most exposure.

The system allows departments to reach individuals directly to check on their overall health after those calls.

“We can’t un-see what we see and we want to be there on your worst day. We all signed up for that,” Losch said.

“There is no firefighter out there that doesn’t say I want to be on that call – I want to make a difference. But when you’re holding a dead baby in your arms and you’ve done everything to save them it can’t help but hurt. So if we can ease that hurt with resources, hopefully people will take advantage of it,” she said.

Glendale Fire is hoping to spread awareness on social media through #ThankAFireFighter.

“You don’t even have to thank us. But when you see us in the grocery store or at the gas station, say hello. It really means something to be seen sometimes,” Losch said.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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