Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

September 2018
By Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Suicide rates are rising sharply in the United States—in fact, in half of states, the rate has risen more than 30 percent since 1999. And this is not some problem limited to those who are severely mentally ill—more than half of people who died by suicide didn’t have a known mental health condition.

I’ve experienced it first-hand, with members in my organization and surrounding agencies. As happens so many times when someone takes their own life, my first thought was “Them? Never!”

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—it’s a good time to focus on the increase in mental health-related issues, not only in the communities we serve, but within our fire service family. For years you’ve heard fire service leaders harp on the fact that cardiac issues are the leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs). While that’s still true, it’s sobering to think that for all our focus on improving the cardiovascular health of firefighters, more firefighters and police officers died by suicide in 2017 than all LODDs combined.

You heard that right: 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide in 2017, compared to 93 firefighter and 129 law enforcement officer line-of-duty deaths, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that fights for the rights of people with disabilities. And the actual number of first responder suicides is likely much higher; the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance estimates that only 40 percent of firefighter suicides are reported.

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