Firefighters struggle with horrific things they see

Firefighters struggle with horrific things they see

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Firefighters risk their lives every time they go out on a call.

Now some are battling more than flames. The suicide rate among firefighters is on the rise.

One hundred eight firefighters nationwide committed suicide in 2015, according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.

Sadly, a firefighter in Kansas City just killed himself near a fire station on Wednesday.

When it comes to post traumatic stress disorder and suicide, many firefighters are struggling alone.

Cleveland 19 spoke with one firefighter who wants them to know help is out there.

He says firefighting is one of the most stressful but rewarding jobs out there.

"It's truly an adrenaline rush when you arrive at a burning building and you're the one running into the building when everyone else is running out," he said.

We're protecting the identity of this firefighter, who works in northeast Ohio.

He's been on the job for more than 20 years. But several years ago, he was diagnosed with PTSD.

He says the stigma keeps him from sharing that with his co-workers.

"It's not in our DNA to say that we have a problem, that we need help," he said.

Firefighters deal with more than putting out fires.

"The shootings, stabbings, car accidents, suicides, burned bodies," he said. "We can't get certain images out of our head, certain things never go away. They'll continue to bottle up until they explode,"

This firefighter says he thought PTSD was something only soldiers dealt with after returning home from war.

"We see the same things, the same horrific things that soldiers see, but it's spread out over a 25- to 35-year career,"  he said.

But then he started having nightmares of his worst calls.

"When I was having these dreams, they were happening to my children. And in these dreams there was nothing I could do to help them," he said.

He says he swallowed his pride and sought out help.

"Through counseling I feel 100 percent better. I feel normal again, I don't have the nightmares anymore,"

He might be doing better, but he knows other firefighters out there are struggling.

Some are hurting so badly, they're thinking about suicide. But they're fighting to stay strong and brave on the outside.

"So the culture needs to change. It's gotten a little bit better, but we still have a long, long way to get to where we need to be to really see an improvement," he said.

That's why he's speaking out, so his brothers and sisters in the firehouse don't suffer alone.

"First and foremost, get help. And it's okay. There's nothing wrong with asking for help," he said.

Suicide rates among firefighters are starting to catch up with the rates of police officers.

Many fire departments offer peer support groups and counties run critical incident stress debriefing.

According to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a department is four times more likely to lose a firefighter by suicide than in the line of duty.

PTSD affects as many as 37 percent of all firefighters. That's compared to 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women in the general population.

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