Tallahassee Fire Department prioritizes first responders’ mental health

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Dealing with traumatic events nearly daily can take a toll on first responders’ mental health.

The Tallahassee Fire Department is hosting a program to address this issue, bringing in about 40 mental health providers to educate them on how to better care for the needs of first responders.

The department held a live demo on Wednesday, to give these providers a glimpse into what firefighters go through.

“It’s a very rewarding career in the end,” firefighter Lance Butler said. “If you can make it through all the bad days.”

In Butler’s 13 years of serving as a firefighter, one bad day in particular sticks with him.

“In November of 2018 at the hot yoga studio shooting in Tallahassee, I responded to that along with several from our department,” Butler said. “I was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after that.”

Butler is among about 24% of firefighters in the Florida panhandle who have experienced clinically diagnosable PTSD.

“I found myself in a very dark place,” Butler said. “And the one thing I could bring myself to do was to tell one of my coworkers. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

As a firefighter, Butler isn’t used to asking for help. He’s used to giving it.

“For us, it’s incredibly hard to walk into a therapist’s office and talk to a counselor about something that we’re going through,” Butler said. “We’re fixers. We don’t need help. We help others. And so for one to ask for help is incredibly difficult.”

That’s why a group called 2nd Alarm Project teamed up with the Tallahassee Fire Department to reduce the stigma around mental health and educate mental health providers on how to best care for the needs of first responders.

“That way first responders know that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help,” Director of 2nd Alarm Project Kellie O’Dare said. “It’s actually a sign of strength.”

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