In his 23 years as a firefighter, Jeff Dill has seen the toll that the profession can take on firefighters and their families. Dill, assistant chief of the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District, has created two not-for-profit foundations to provide counseling and care for firefighters, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The number of firefighters who commit suicide is “jaw dropping,” said Dill.
He said firefighters often have personalities that resist asking for help if they feel stress, depression, or any other emotional pain.
The men and women who do the job often think they must always be strong in any emergency, and that can take a punishing toll, he said.
“Our culture dictates that we don’t ask for help, we don’t show any weakness,” Dill said. “People call us for help, we don’t ask for help.”
Like anyone else, firefighters can struggle with the demons of addiction, anxiety and everyday stress that can lead to suicide, Dill said. But he added that they also suffer great strains of guilt related to the death of fellow firefighters, or civilian deaths during calls that go bad.
Police and other emergency responders cope with similar issues, and also have a high rate of suicide, he noted.
Dill said that since 2011, 293 firefighters across the country have committed suicide. Five were women. About 13 percent also killed their spouses.
Dill hopes to create scholarships for children of firefighters who have committed suicide, and special camps for surviving families.
He founded Counseling Services for Fire Fighters in 2009. In 2011, he created Firefighter Behavior Health Alliance, a national program that offers training to counselors to help firefighters in the throes of an emotional illness or breakdown.
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