Charlotte Fire Department prioritizing mental health

Firefighters put other people’s lives before their own and are seen as heroes, but they say it’s time to open the dialogue.

CHARLOTTE, NC – Dozens of firefighters die in the line of duty every year, and thousands of others are injured. But many suffer from invisible wounds like PTSD or mental health problems.

To improve mental wellness, the Charlotte Fire Department has developed an internal behavioral health program to incorporate mental health into its workforce.

Firefighters put other people’s lives before their own and are seen as heroes, but they say it’s time to open the dialogue.

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“We’re going home, we’re human too,” CFD captain Andre Fuller said.

For Fuller, he remembers the day it became too much to bear.

“I did CPR on a kid my son’s age, so just seeing that affected me tremendously,” Fuller said.

He found solace in the fire department’s peer support team.

“Another firefighter went through the same thing that I have, and he can talk about the things that I’ve seen, and I can get it off my chest and not feel judged, and it destroys the stigma of feeling weak because of feeling a certain way.” Fuller said.

According to the CDC, first responders are more likely to die by suicide, but sometimes stigma can be a barrier to treatment.

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline on 988 or chat with them online. There are resources in North Carolina as well available here and in South Carolina available here.

Now, CFD is taking another step in prioritizing mental health with the recent hiring of behavioral health specialist, Nicole Burg. It is available 24/7.

“Having someone embedded in the system is so important because trust is great for first responders,” Burg.

Burg said it’s time for heroes to take care of themselves too.

“Just because we’re suffering from something doesn’t mean we can’t do our job; doesn’t mean we can’t continue to help people,” Burg said.

The fire department also has therapy dogs for its firefighters.

They are used to comforting and calming firefighters through high stress and traumatic situations.

CFD Fire Inspector and K9 Handler Rick Dunton explained the importance of the department’s first therapy dog, named Cat.

“We actually work with the peer support team when we go and do debriefings, sometimes people just don’t want to talk because it’s too harsh, but that’s what we have,” Dunton said.

Contact Lexi Wilson at [email protected] and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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