Campaign will highlight stigmas firefighters face on job

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Weymouth firefighters are pressing legislation on Beacon Hill to access disability benefits for emergency first responders who receive a PTSD diagnosis as a result of trauma experienced on-duty, and launching an awareness campaign to highlight stigmas they say they face in their own firehouse.

The Heroes Need Heroes, Too campaign being launched from Weymouth’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1616 will take on “the life-threatening stigma faced by firefighters who seek mental health assistance and the need for greater on-the-job support in their own firehouse and across Massachusetts.”

“The biggest hurdle has always been getting rid of the stigma that you are weak and can’t do this job if you need help,” said Kevin McNiff, president of IAFF Local 1616. “There are still individuals in the fire service that perpetuate this stigma and believe that if you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you are a liability.”

About 20 percent of firefighters and first responders in the U.S develop post-traumatic stress disorder during their career, compared to 6.8 percent for civilians, according to a study cited by the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery. The union said many firefighters stay silent about anxiety or suicidal thoughts, rather than seeking care, due to fears of retribution. Tom Greenhalgh, executive director of National Public Safety Solutions, compared firefighters to vehicles to make his point.

“You take your car into the shop regularly for oil changes and tune-ups, to make sure you don’t have any issues down the road,” he said. “The same can be applied to mental health. First responders exposed to traumatic events on the job seek these services not because they are ‘broken,’ but because a routine check-in helps them manage stresses and traumas so they can do their jobs to the very best of their ability.”

The union says legislation (S 1691/H 2726) sponsored by Sen. Sal DiDomenico would align benefits with the “inherent risk of being a first responder.”

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