Metro Firefighter Using Life Experiences to Improve Mental Health Culture in Fire, EMS Industry

August 17, 2017 11:32 PM

The job of any first responder is demanding, but the Burnsville Fire and EMS Department is changing their culture to help prevent mental health crisis. 

It's one of the department's own who is using his story to help others. 

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Over his career, Assistant Burnsville Fire Chief Brian Carlson has been on quite a few calls, but something changed a few years ago.

"I started to notice that calls that didn't bother me before, started to bother me more and more,"Burnsville Assistant Fire Chief said.

Then one day, it all became too much. 

"One night I went on a call, it was a suicide of a young woman that really changed my life," Carlson said. "It led to depression, and some suicidal thoughts."

Carlson eventually got help, but he realized this is an issue that affects so many in the industry. 

"People always attribute firefighters to being brave, and paramedics to being brave, and while that's true to a certain extent, I think fear is something that's really common," Carlson said.  

In fact, two separate surveys found that nearly 47 percent of firefighters and 37 percent of EMS personnel had thoughts of suicide in their life. 

"It's a difficult topic but unfortunately I think it's true," Burnsville Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann said. 

Carlson decided to share what he learned in treatment with Jungmann and the rest of the department.

Today, their work towards a solution can be found for all departments in a webinar from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services. 

"(We're) really trying to be proactive, not only on the treatment side but, on the prevention side," Jungmann said. 

Chief Jungmann stresses it's an ongoing change of culture within the department.

"Trying to embrace healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, how do you deal with stress," Jungmann said. 

The opportunity to wear the firefighter uniform is a privilege for Carlson, and he feels humbled he has the opportunity to now reach others in need. 

"My struggle and my journey has just been my journey, and I hope that people can connect with that and realize that they're not alone," Carlson said. 

To see the webinar, visit http://www.jems.com/webcasts/2017/06/focus-on-changing-the-culture-addressing-ems-provider-stress-and-mental-health.html

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1-800-273-TALK.

Credits

Brett Hoffland

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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