Mental health training, helmet emblem honor Fla. firefighter who died from suicide

A sticker that can now be worn on Boynton Beach firefighters' helmets bears a green ribbon symbolizing open dialogue about mental health


Emily Sullivan
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — City firefighters can now bear an emblem for mental health on their helmets after the department's first officer suicide.

It's a way for firefighters to keep the fallen officer close to them; it's a reminder for them to take care of themselves, said Shawn Weeks, president of Local 1891, which represents Boynton's paramedics and firefighters.

Boynton Beach Fire Rescue firefighters are receiving mental health training following the suicide of a colleague. A helmet sticker was recently approved bearing the fallen firefighter's name and a green ribbon symbolizing open dialogue about mental health. (Photo/The Palm Beach Post)
Boynton Beach Fire Rescue firefighters are receiving mental health training following the suicide of a colleague. A helmet sticker was recently approved bearing the fallen firefighter's name and a green ribbon symbolizing open dialogue about mental health. (Photo/The Palm Beach Post)

"We look at him as guiding us ... there's a bigger picture," said Weeks, who noted the symbol represents mental health as a whole, not only suicide. "It should be a constant awareness, of, this is real."

The city's interim fire chief, Matt Petty, signed off Jan. 7 on the emblem. If they choose, firefighters can put the sticker on their helmets - the symbol includes the fallen officer's last name and a green ribbon supporting open dialogue about mental health.

The officer's brother, a firefighter in a different department, wrote in a statement provided by Weeks that the symbol "will always remind me, in order to overcome despair, we have to believe in the power of hope."

It was designed by two of his brother's college friends, he wrote, an ode to the "memory and legacy" of his brother, "an honorable man with a huge heart."

He also wrote in his brother's name, "we will continue the fight" regarding depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Boynton's approval of the helmet emblem joins other pushes spurred by the officer's death, including a pitch from the local fire union for more emphasis on mental health, including a doctor, training and family support.

Firefighters this week could also participate in a two-hour "mental health and suicide awareness" workshop, a joint effort between the local union and the department's training division, Petty said.

Petty added that 13 new hires, who will start in February, will need to complete mental health and suicide awareness training.

He said there was a "need," and the officer's suicide pushed its prioritization.

At least 103 firefighters died by suicide in 2017, according to a Ruderman Family Foundation-commissioned white paper.

An estimate from the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance says that number exceeded 250.

If you or someone you know is in emotional crisis or distress, call the confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. A free text message service also is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Text 741-741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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