Phoenix Firefighter Suicides Spur Changes

Four active Phoenix firefighters and one retired firefighter have taken their own lives in the last seven months and the department's chief says changes are being made to prevent further tragedies, according to KNXV-TV.

"It leaves the organization a little upside down, a little bewildered," Fire Chief Bob Khan told the news station.

Firefighter Shaun Johnson -- who also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force -- hanged himself on Dec. 5, 2009 after being checked into a mental health facility. He was only 35.

"He always put a happy face on," Firefighter Adam Caiazzo, who went through the academy with Johnson, told the news station. "I think it was something that just came over him. I don’t know what was the stem of the situation. I don't know how he got to where he was."

Only a few months later in March of 2010, retired Firefighter Conrad Garcia, 54, shot himself along the I-10 freeway.

"Conrad was a pleasant person to be around," Khan, who hadn't spoken to him in more than a decade, said.

About two weeks after Garcia's death, Firefighter Chris Bishop -- also a military veteran -- hanged himself in his garage.

Khan said it was a "complete surprise to everybody" when the 42-year-old took his own life.

It wasn't until Corey Nelson, 33, killed himself that July that the firefighter's union president developed a task force to address the recent suicides, according to the report.

"I miss him very much," Steve Nelson, Corey's father and a retired Phoenix firefighter, said. "(As a firefighter) I saw the devastation that (suicide) brought to families, but I never realized truly the hurt that’s involved 'til it happens to you."

The department is now looking at ways to enhance how employees get help and the type of help being offered.

"The problem is to get the firefighter to use these tools that are there for them because the whole macho thing -- where you don't let things bother you -- and if you keep them inside they'll definitely tear you down," Nelson said.

Khan said the new task force has been meeting regularly to discuss possible changes in the types of services that are available and will make recommendations for changes this month.

"In some ways, it's a line of duty death. We need to keep the next one from happening," Kahn said. "I don't want to see one more young person die needlessly. "

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