LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The City of Las Vegas’s Fire & Rescue is working toward addressing firefighter suicide rates and mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance report firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Las Vegas Fire and Rescue’s behavioral health administrator, Jeff Dill, said the national suicide rate for firefighters has increased. Statewide, the number has fluctuated.
The department has instituted new coping mechanisms to address the alarming trend. Before taking their final exams, recruits do yoga to help relieve stress before their final exams.
“It allows us to decompress,” said recruit Wade Jacobs. “To get stress off our shoulders and go into our finals with a level mind and body.”
Firefighter Morgan Yuhas said the career is a labor of love, but it comes with a lot of stress.
“The reason why we are seeing that trend in high suicide rates is that there is a lot more work put on us,” Yuhas said. “We love our job, but it can be a lot if we aren’t coping the right ways.”
She said a wellness initiative like yoga is a beneficial coping mechanism, and helpful toward flexibility and agility.
“To let them know we have resources like exercise, therapists, and hopefully we can see that trend go down,” Yuhas said.
The yoga class for recruits is part of a larger effort toward addressing and de-stigmatizing mental health. Dill said there are ongoing mental health seminars, and work to offer more counseling and peer support teams.
Dill explained juggling emergency calls and home life “becomes very difficult and many struggle with the stress and anxiety.”
He founded the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance to track things like first responder suicide rates. Since 2001, it has tracked 19 firefighter suicides in Nevada but Dill acknowledges the number could be higher due to gaps in reporting.
Meantime, Yuhas said providing more mental health resources is an area that departments can focus on.
An act to provide mental health resources to first responders was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate late last month. The Helping Emergency Responders Overcome, also known as the HERO Act. The bill paves the way for annual reports on first responder suicide rates, risk factors, and work toward prevention, as well as grants for peer counselors. It was introduced prior to 2021.