Chief: increased firefighter suicide rate has impact on dept.

Posted at 5:22 PM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 19:37:30-04

In the past five years, the Hendersonville fire department has had two firefighters close to the department commit suicide.

For the first time, Chief Scotty Bush is talking about the losses of the firefighters. One was a current member of the fire department. The other firefighter was one who had left Hendersonville to work at a different fire department in Middle Tennessee. Neither will be identified in this story at the request of family.

First responder suicides have surpassed the number of deaths in the line of duty for both fire fighters and police officers according to a study done by Ruderman Family Foundation.

It claims that in 2017, there were at least 103 firefighter and 140 police officer suicides in the United States. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. 

"It's a huge trend in the fire service, police, basically all public safety," said Chief Bush.

Bush said he talked to the Hendersonville firefighter the night before he died.

"You sit back and you wonder if you missed something in a conversation," said Bush. "You know, was he telling you something? Was I not educated enough? I've beat myself up over that and I've thought about it. We had a normal conversation. He didn't give me any indications that he was even considering that."

The fire department has a number of resources for people who may be having suicidal thoughts. They include access to a fire department chaplin, like Randy Compton, an employee assistance program or even the support of fellow firefighters.

Compton said he's spoken with a number of firefighters over the years who are trying to cope with what they've seen on duty.

"Over years of seeing death and destruction, it just builds up," said Compton. "Kind of like carbon monoxide, it just builds up in your system until it gets to the point where you can't handle it anymore."

Compton said his strategy is to listen to firefighters and try to point out the positive parts of their lives.