Trending Topics

Phoenix firefighter suicides highlight pressures we face

We should be the first ones to acknowledge when we’re having a problem and get some help

Editor’s note: The Phoenix Fire Department is pulling together after four firefighters committed suicide in a span of just seven months. Our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel explains why we need start thinking about behavioral health support the same way we think of seat belts.

Many fire departments spend a great deal of time, money, and effort trying to address the physical hazards of fire and emergency services work.

As this story demonstrates, the behavioral health hazards faced every day by firefighters and emergency personnel are no less dangerous.

Even in departments with long-established mental health programs, we can lose our colleagues, or their family members, to the impacts of job-related stress.

I expect we all know brother and sister firefighters, active or retired, career and volunteer, who are struggling to keep their lives together.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I’m guessing we can all identify a time when we could have used assistance. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, just wait.

The big question is ... then what? Did you seek help? When? How? If not, why not?
While I don’t want to generalize, I think we know that we’re not especially good, as a service, at asking for help when it comes to behavioral health issues. After all, we’re the ones people call when they’re having problems, right?

And that’s exactly my point: we see things people aren’t supposed to see; hear things people aren’t supposed to hear; and do things people aren’t supposed to do.

It seems perfectly reasonable, in that context, that we should be the first ones to acknowledge when we’re having a problem and get some help! I don’t mean after the big one (although that’s also important); I’m talking about proactively mitigating the cumulative effects of our daily (over)exposures to pain and suffering.

We need to start thinking about behavioral health support the same way we think of seat belts: every call, every day, all the time.

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thiel’s operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

Government officials hear testimonies about challenges involving recruitment, cancer, mental health, EVs, climate change and beyond
Speedlays provide quick deployment of attack lines to the fire, which is what we need as the fire grows faster and faster on today’s modern fireground
TEEX Wellness and Resiliency Program Director Alisa McDonald has led the development of peer teams available to deploy to large-scale disasters
“Our ultimate goal is the safety of the employees,” Decatur Fire Chief Tracy Thornton said about the new, job-related testing