Firefighter PTSD, Depression and Suicide -- Helping the Helpers


Illinois Fire Chief Uses Counseling Degree to Reach Out

Dill went back to school for a counseling degree and in 2009 founded the online Counseling Services for Firefighters and began workshops to teach officers the signs of psychological distress. This year, he established the nonprofit Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, which focuses on suicide awareness and prevention. He's created his own firefighter suicide database, which currently contains accounts of 120 suicides. Stress can destroy the lives of active and retired firefighters. It can destroy fire chiefs as easily as rookies, as demonstrated by the case of an Ohio fire chief who went out for coffee with his buddies and instead of heading home, slipped away and killed himself.

One of the most effective approaches to treating PTSD, adopted by the Veterans Administration, has patients recount their painful experiences by writing them down and reading them to the therapist more than once. "The healing from the trauma occurs when you give narrative to it," Roberts said. "Traumas never leave you, but they are not torturous anymore."

Kirschman, a volunteer counselor at the West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat in San Rafael, Calif., which holds six-day residential programs for traumatized firefighters, medics and police, said they're designed to "get through to those people for whom traditional therapy has failed."

"We see people like Jack," she said.

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