PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Within the last decade, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among firefighters is coming to the forefront here in the Valley.
Between 2009 and 2011, there were six active and retired Phoenix firefighters who committed suicide. Fire officials said this put the wheels in motion to do more in preventing PTSD.
Firefighters are known for their brave spirit, running into the line of fire to keep people safe. No matter how brave they are, however, they could still fall victim to PTSD. To combat the issue, the Phoenix Fire Department has joined forces with Firestrong, which is a 24/7 firefighter and family crisis support line.
"We suffer most commonly with a form of PTSD called Cumulative Stress Disorder," said Captain Larry Subervi with Phoenix Fire. "It's not necessarily one major event that affects us. It's the fact that over the years you see the drowning, then a year later you have the child that was ejected from a car, then you have a spouse that was shot by their husband or wife and it's the domestic violence incident, someone that's trapped in a fire. Over the course of your 20 to 30-year career, you see all of these stresses."
Firefighters on the department are now trained as peer support members, and they look for signs of PTSD and mentor those who are dealing with stress. Currently at high stress incidents like child drownings or other traumatic scenes, a member will go out and make contact with all crew members on the call.
"The overwhelming majority of the time, crew members are doing great, but it's a one on one conversation," said Cpt. Subervi. "One thing we recognize that firefighters in a group aren't going to say, 'hey, I need help.' It's a one-on-one conversation because we know one of those peers are contacting those members individually."
80 firefighters from the Arizona Task Force 1 are currently in Texas, assisting with the devastating flood caused by rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. For the first time, four peer support members are there, making sure their mental health stays in tact.
"They're seeing a lot of destruction, fatalities, people that have lost everything," said Cpt. Subervi.
Firestrong resources for Phoenix Fire Department