Coming Together to Heal Our Own

This week, fire service labor and management took off their badges and took up a pressing challenge for the profession: the emotional and mental wellness of the men and women on the front lines.

They finished with a unified commitment to deal with a common threat that is claiming the lives of our brothers and sisters.

At an unprecedented two-day Behavioral Health Conference, more than 250 chiefs, union leaders and mental health experts gathered to consider ways to address the increase in suicide among firefighters and the rapidly emerging risks of post-traumatic stress injuries among first responders.

The conference, organized by the Cal-JAC and co-sponsored by California Professional Firefighters and the California Fire Chiefs Assn., included presentations from national experts, local and regional support organizations and service providers. Most importantly, they heard the stories of individuals for whom post-traumatic stress is not an abstraction, but a daily struggle.

The urgency of the effort was thrown into heartbreaking spotlight on the first day of the conference, with the latest news of a firefighter suicide in Orange County. It was the latest example of a trend that has resulted in more firefighter suicides than line-of-duty deaths.

When it was over, CPF and CalChiefs announced a commitment to developing a set of unified principles on behavioral health – a series of guideposts to address an issue clearly of common interest.

“We’ve never had labor and management come together at an event of this size on behavioral health,” said CPF President Lou Paulson. “For the sake of our firefighters’ lives and their well-being, we need to approach the issue with a shared sense of purpose.”

“California leads the way and this is no different,” added CalChiefs President Mike DuRee. “We will continue to lead the way.”