Suicide in the Fire Service: Saving the Lives of Firefighters
Video – 2016 CHDS Thesis Series. Steve Heitman.
Steve Heitman, Fire Chief of the Mercer Island WA Fire Department, talks about his CHDS Master’s thesis research, looking at whether Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and firefighter suicide are on the rise in the U.S. fire service and how fire chiefs can implement programs to curb PTSD-related firefighter suicide. The research was limited, however, by imprecise statistics on PTSD and suicide in the fire service, caused in part by the firefighter culture. To work toward a proactive solution, this research examined current, effective mental health programs that can be utilized in-house by fire departments, including Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, Psychological First Aid, and Stress First Aid. Research on professional mental health focused on therapies used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, including psychotherapy, medication, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Through a critical review of available programs, this thesis identifies best practices for collecting accurate firefighter suicide data, and suggests development of a tiered approach to decrease PTSD and firefighter suicide. A limitation of the research was the inability to verify results of a firefighter being “cured” of PTSD.
Master’s theses, from homeland security students at the Naval Postgraduate School, are available in the Homeland Security Digital Library.