Weight of the Call: First Responders may not be taking care of themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Their jobs require them to be laser-focused, especially during the pandemic. But is COVID-19 masking the mental health issue our first responders have?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started the Professional Firefighters of Utah International Association of Fire Fighters believe firefighters and paramedics are not requesting the mental health help they once were.

“Over the last four to five months, it appears that volume is down on the ones we have been able to receive requests for,” said President Jack Tidrow. “So, I think they are minimizing to some degree.”

Since November of 2019, Utah lost six first responders to suicide.

Firefighter and EMT Suicide 2020 Data from Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance

Nationally Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance Founder Jeff Dill tells ABC4 News Investigator Jason Nguyen, 51 firefighters and 17 paramedics died by suicide.

The organization found more than 20 first responders did it in the last month.

“COVID-19 has been an additive into the behavioral health aspect for the fire service that we did not expect to happen,” he said. “They are struggling, they’re exhausted, their mind – you can only be in that hyper state for so long before it wears and tears on your body.”

Dill is emploring first responders to reach out to their organizations who are providing services to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program or Peer Support Groups.

“Just encourage them, praise them, commend them for standing up and getting the help, because I’ll tell you that’s a lot better to do that than stand over their casket and look at their widow and children,” said Dill.

Tidrow says it’s time to look out for one another.

“We just have to keep reminding them, hey if you have personal issues that need to be attended to, ask, or ask on behalf of a co-worker,” he said.

Peer Support Trainers with the Utah Critical Incident Stress Management Team say if you know a first responder may be contemplating suicide the first step you can do to help is to ask them about it. If they are willing to talk about it, there is plenty of time to get them professional help.

If you or someone you know is contemplating immediate suicide please call 911.

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