Fire chief addresses PTSD in Santa Maria first responders - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Fire chief addresses PTSD in Santa Maria first responders

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is something that often goes overlooked in firefighters and paramedics. Santa Maria City Fire Chief Leonard Champion is addressing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the city’s own first responders.

According to recent statistics, there have been 126 first responder suicides this year in the country. That’s up by nearly 50 in just four years. Chief Champion says he wants to be proactive about first responders’ mental health.

“Firefighters come to work every day and we don’t know what kind of call we're going to go on. It can be a structure fire, a vehicle accident, an industrial injury, or even a medical call that can be somewhat traumatic,” said Chief Champion.

“Unfortunately, we’ve see babies that have passed away for various reasons, kids that have been hit by cars,” said Santa Maria Fire Captain Anthony Morales.

“We see some of the worst tragedies out there,” said Chief Champion.

The new fire chief says some first responders don’t properly deal with traumatic experiences that take an emotional toll.

“It’s been something that we don’t readily talk about,” said Chief Champion.

“The stigma of, ‘I can’t talk about it’ has to go away with us as a culture, internally,” said Morales.

Chief Champion also said 10 percent of firefighters in the U.S. suffer from depression and about 24 percent suffer from PTSD.

“Others may push it down, push it aside, and not deal with it until it resurfaces years later,” said Chief Champion.

The new chief now wants to work with city officials to bring in resources such as trained clinicians and create a regional PTSD force where first responders can work together.

Chief Champion said he will meet with City of Santa Maria officials next month to establish a plan to address PTSD in the city’s current and retired first responders.

If you’re interested in supporting first responders and their mental health, you can do so through organizations like Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.

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