PHOENIX - ABC15’s investigation on firefighter suicides is sparking reaction across the country, and more agencies are stepping forward to curb the disturbing new trend for all first responders.
“We had become aware that there were quite a few suicides because of the requests we got to help families,” said Sharon Knutson-Felix, Executive Director of the 100 Club of Arizona.
The 100 Club offers benefits to the families of first responders killed in the line of duty. The families of those who commit suicide do not get federal benefits, and it’s a topic Knutson-Felix says is avoided by fire and police departments, as well as the military.
“Our focus was, what can we do to help people not feel like they’ve lost hope and not want to commit suicide, and how do we help the departments deal with it,” Knutson-Felix said.
The 100 Club brought in National Police Suicide Foundation executive director Robert Douglas to train Valley departments to catch the warning signs.
“We’re at an epidemic stage,” said Douglas, a former police officer himself. “Since 1997, we’ve lost more officers to police suicide nationwide than we lose in the line of duty.”
Douglas says the alarming statistics don’t even reflect the number of officers who commit suicide because many go unreported, or are classified as accidental or natural deaths.
“The rank and file look at that and say, ‘We’re just taking care of the family,’ but the family knows that officer shot and killed himself,” Douglas said. “The agencies know that that officer committed suicide, and that means we’re not talking about suicide.”
Douglas says up to 40 percent of officers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but fewer than five percent of police agencies across the country have a PSA model for suicide prevention. That’s why he’s back in the Valley for another workshop this weekend.
“It’s not that we can’t change it, it’s just that we won’t admit that we have an issue,” Douglas said.
The Phoenix Fire Department created a task force after the fourth suicide in its department in less than a year. Its recommendations are expected next week.
Stay with ABC15 News and ABC15.com for updates on this developing story.
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