Strength To Live: Suicide more common among first responders

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Firefighters and police officers, who repeatedly are exposed to trauma, are five times more likely to suffer from PTSD than civilians, a recent study shows.

"Everybody knows the fire service is one of those services that is very macho. So we don't like to show a lot of feelings," explained Clarence Reese, an EMS officer with Shreveport Fire Department.

He understands all too well the silent scars that come with the job.

"For most of us, emotions take over. We give 100 percent when we show up to a scene trying to help that individual, their family or other citizens. However, even with doing everything we know how to do, sometimes we lose people."

It's the repeated exposure to traumatic events that can take a toll on the mind.

"I can recall a little kid trapped in a vehicle on I-20 years ago," Reese said. "We could not get them out. We knew the child was not viable at that point.

"But you should've seen every firefighter on the scene still trying to manually, with two hands, trying to break metal apart. Trying to get a kid out of a car," he continued.

"Those are some of the runs that you'll never forget. Or having to break news to a family there's nothing else that we can do. A lot of times, we may have to leave a person on scene that's cold to touch, there's no sign of life. And having to break that news to the family with them crying, beating on walls.

"There are some images that you'll never forget."

Reese added: "We're sent home quite regularly because we can't fathom the things that have just taken place."

A report by the Ruderman Family Foundation shows 103 firefighter suicides in 2017.

"We have things called critical incident stress management or we have to sit-downs," Reese said. "We have to all debrief and talk about those, but it's very stressful

"It's something we signed up to do, but that doesn't mean we're not affected by it."

More often than not. first responders find themselves constantly needing to be the ones giving help and not asking for it.

"It can lead to suicide. And we all know now you cannot attach suicide to a certain gender, to a certain race, to certain economic status. It is not discriminate."

Help is available.

"It's something we signed up to do, but that does not mean we're not affected by it."

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