Soaring Firefighter Suicides Focus of Documentary

Feb. 25, 2016
Statistics show 113 responders committed suicide last year, more than were killed on duty.

A Colorado Springs firefighter, who shared his alcoholism and depression on social media numerous times, was just one of the nation's first responders who committed suicide last year. 

Tim Casey was among the 113 firefighters and EMS personnel who took their lives in 2015, according to a documentary by Aljazeera America.

“Suicide among our brothers and sisters is real,” Capt. Jeff Dill, a retired firefighter and founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, told the reporter.

Dill added that the number of suicides among firefighters and medics has increased steadily since 2011. 

But, he readily admitted that no one will ever have solid figures because many departments don't report them.

Responders are exposed to unthinkable horrors as they do their jobs, and expected to put it aside because the next call awaits. They are part of a culture to give rather than ask for help.

“We suffer what I call ‘cultural brainwashing,’” Dill told the reporter.

Casey discussed his demons in a number of YouTube videos. “A mother had backed over, accidentally, the head of her baby toddler and squished its brain out. And we showed up on the fire engine, and she handed me a baby with its brain coming out—and the baby was still breathing—and said, “Save my baby.” And I didn’t save the baby. I mean, obviously, it died.”

He readily admitted in the videos he turned to alcohol to help numb the pain. It didn't work.

Last July 31, Casey turned on a car in his enclosed garage. The fumes killed him.

The journalist working on "The Final Call" story about firefighter suicides had spoken with him for hours on the phone. Casey committed suicide three weeks away from their in-person meeting

In Clarksville, Tenn., the daughter of a firefighter who committed suicide said she wasn't really surprised when she heard the news.

Lauren Ferguson spoke about her father, 31-year-veteran Capt. Mike Mauser, waking every two to four hours, walking around the house to check on things. She said he maybe feared about losing his family to fire.

Mauser, she said proudly, was well-known and well-liked. And, she said added the macho fire service culture contributed to his decision to hang himself. 

Ferguson, an EMT, said in a video that many considered her father a legend. And, that's probably why he didn't seek help. Doing so, would have shown weakness.

Experts have found, however, that some suffering would prefer talking to a colleague rather than a professional. Peer support teams have been established in a number of departments across the country.

But, since Casey was a retired firefighter, he was no longer eligible to participate in the peer support program, the psychologist overseeing Colorado Springs' panel told the reporters. 

Access to mental health programs has been a major focus of the National Fallen Firefighters' Foundation for more than a decade. It's among 16 Life Safety initiatives identified as a priority.

Information about peer support and other programs is available on the NFFF Everyone Goes Home website.

Now an advocate to prevent firefighter suicides, Ferguson explained why she decided to leave her father's casket open.

“His face was really bruised because the blood vessels busted, but everybody said he just looked like he'd come out of a fire,” Ferguson said. “I wanted it open because I wanted everybody to see it and not do it—to see how awful it was.”


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