Saving our Firefighters: Lawmakers, Health Officials Addressing PTSD and Suicide Rates


Earlier this month in a series of reports we highlighted what’s become an emerging crisis; not only here in Pennsylvania but, across the country – high rates of suicide and PTSD among firefighters and other first responders. Now, lawmakers and healthcare professionals are working with first responders to address the problem.

In 2018 more first responders in Pennsylvania died by suicide than in the line of duty.

“Our men and women are suffering," Dr. Michael Genovese, Medical Director for the F.B.I. National Academy Associates, says. “They’re suffering in silence and we owe it to them to do something for them.”

Pennsylvania currently does not have protocol in place to prevent, mitigate, or treat mental and psychological wounds first responders may be dealing with. A recent report from a group of bipartisan lawmakers recommends the state department of health spearhead an effort to develop mental wellness and stress management protocol to help first responders.


“We’re asking for a cultural change because historically in law enforcement the culture has been to just bottle it up. Just keep it in,” Dr. Genovese, says.

Earlier this month, he helped lead a three day stress management training event near Pittsburgh.

The doctor likens the training to preventative medicine.

“What we’re hoping to do is get them healthier before events occur so that they can recover better after," Dr Genovese, says.

He’s helped train first responders across the country - the training is available free of charge. It’s a way to help provide first responders with tools to help them cope with trauma they may encounter on the job.

“It doesn’t only have to happen in the context of one traumatic event,” Dr. Genovese, says. “It could happen with chronic exposure to traumatic stimuli over time.”

The program is a “train the trainer” model. The training that wrapped up in Pittsburgh consisted of 16 officers from departments across the state. Those officers will take what they learned and incorporate it into training with in their respected departments.

Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner, Bruce Trego, says, “First responders are a unique breed. Whether it’s for law enforcement or EMS, they want to talk to their own.”

First responders and healthcare professionals agree having that conversation is helping to change workplace and remove stigma surrounding mental health.

Brian Bastinelli, a Captain with the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire, says, “It’s something our departments need to address proactively and openly.

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By Joe Ducey
| Published by CBS21 | Read the article

Chea Davis