By Jim Critchley, Tucson Fire Chief
The events of last Friday have left two families devastated, a community in disbelief, and a fire department asking what more could we have done. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Cobb family and the Bair family. We cannot imagine the pain they are feeling. The department has held off on public comment out of respect for the victims and their families. It is now time to answer questions about the mental health challenges in the fire service.
The issue of mental health and depression is a societal problem. The men and women of the fire service are part of that society. Firefighters experience the same personal and family challenges and crises as the general public. In addition, firefighters are routinely exposed to conditions and events most people can’t imagine. These conditions take their toll on our men and women. This is by no means an excuse for the unthinkable actions that led to this terrible loss of life on Friday.
Many fire departments throughout the nation, including the Tucson Fire Department, are experiencing increases in mental health challenges with firefighters. The Tucson Fire Department, in partnership with the Tucson Firefighter’s Association, recognized this critical need and has put together a comprehensive program addressing firefighter health and wellness. Over the past few years, Tucson Fire has established a progressive and evolving mental health program to help our firefighters. This program includes:
Tucson Fire Department Mental Health Program-
Dr. Patricia Haynes is an associate professor at the University of Arizona specializing in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Dr. Haynes, in conjunction with Well America, has been working with the fire department for the past four years. During this time, she has assisted Well America in developing their multi-tiered mental health evaluation and screening program. In addition, she supervises the department’s Peer Operational Support Team (POST) and provides screenings for PTSD after potentially traumatic calls. She delivers programs on stress resilience to firefighters, communication workers, Captains and Chiefs; and, she provides free, brief, confidential therapy to our employees experiencing personal and work difficulties. TFD is committed to the promotion of mental health among its workers and has recently developed a Behavioral Health Committee to spearhead these initiatives and breakdown the stigma and barriers for reporting mental health needs.
Additional Resources Available to Firefighters-The department provides access to the following agencies:
- City of Tucson Employee Assistance Program services
- Dr. Patricia Haynes from Well America/Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
- Shoshana Elkins, Sequoia Springs Counseling Center
- International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), Center for Excellence for Behavior Health Treatment and Recovery (in patient treatment)
- Jewish Family and Community Services
- Scott McKinney, Tucson Fire Department Chaplain
- Mike Coyle, Tucson Fire Department Chaplain
- Captain John Gulotta, Department Health and Safety Program Coordinator
- Axes and Arms National Suicide Prevention hotline Tucson Community wide crisis line
- Pasadera Behavioral Health Network walk-in clinic
The department will continue to be proactive in our approach to mental health issues. We will continue to seek opportunities to intervene with employees as early as possible during their time of need.