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Fire departments focus on managing mental health after high-stress calls

Posted at 4:39 AM, Mar 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-23 08:35:06-04

There's a new push to provide more mental health services for firefighters in the Valley. 

ABC15 spoke with firefighters from the Phoenix Fire Department. They say for a long time there was a stigma surrounding mental health among the men and women in the department.

Captain Jake Van Hook says some compartmentalize their feelings after traumatic calls, even turning to alcohol or drugs to cope.

They currently have an option in place for firefighters to go home after traumatic calls but not everyone utilizes it.

Captain Ray Maione says in 2010 at least five current and retired firefighters committed suicide in the span of six months. He says it was a wake-up call.

"At that point, when you start losing members you realize 'hey, there something going on here,' we need to look at this." 

The firefighter's union came up with one place where firefighters could get the help they need and do it 100 percent confidentially. 

It's a website called Roughly 80 fire departments from across the country and Canada subscribe to the site. It's overseen by mental health professionals. There are multiple links on it to help those in need.

High-stress calls are also flagged so firefighters know ahead of time when they need to prepare mentally.

"We just understood that even resiliency before those calls happened, they help us have a better outcome in the end," Capt. Van Hook says. 

There's also a peer support team of more than 100 firefighters who call and help those who've assisted in high-stress calls. They also have minimal training in counseling so their fellow men and women in the department can talk to someone who has been in their shoes. 

Ultimately fire officials say this will help save lives and offer support to those who put their lives on the line to help the public in their time of need.