Orlando firefighters ask for more mental health help from the city after firefighter’s suicide

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando firefighter has taken his own life, and it’s just one of several firefighter deaths 9 investigates has been covering over the last couple of years.


Fire departments are dealing with what is being called a crisis in the fire services, but the Orlando Fire Union said the city’s efforts are not enough, and they would like to see more done regarding mental health.

Orlando firefighter Mike Rodriguez was best friends with Jeff Huggins since they were just six years old. They played on the same Pop Warner football team, and eventually, both became firefighters and worked at the Orlando Fire Department.

Huggins always wanted to be a firefighter, which is unsurprising since his parents were public servants, one at OFD and the other at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

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But Huggins’s life was cut short in April, and they don’t exactly know why.

That day, Rodriquez and other friends spent the day together and told Channel 9, “It was very normal. And looking back, it was almost like his last hurrah with all his friends, the last day in the sun that we got to enjoy with him.”

There was no indication he was having an off day that night he took his own life.

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When asked if he believed his suicide had something to do with his job, Rodriguez said, “A thousand percent.”

“His mental anguish, some of the things that were being said prior to, that didn’t click until after his death,” he said. “Things that he’s -- whether it’s the rumor mill or trying to justify things that he said to coworkers, I think was taking a toll on him. That’s part of the reason that I’m sitting here is we don’t know all of the signs and symptoms.”

Fire departments all across the country are dealing with what they say is a mental health crisis in the fire service.

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According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, from 2014-2020, more firefighters died by suicide than in the line of duty.

According to the author, there have been just over 2,000 firefighter suicides since 2010, including more than 100 in 2023, and the numbers are likely higher.

There were five in Florida in just the last two months.

The Orlando Fire Union is pushing for a more updated mental health plan.

“We’re using a dated mental health system in the Orlando Fire Department,” Rodriguez said. “And all we’re looking for is a progressive and aggressive way for us to seek help.”

They have a peer support group but are not contracted with the city, and we don’t have a clear answer to why.

The members tell Channel 9 that the city’s plan is more reactive than proactive. Firefighters said they want more education up front on how to cope and how to spot the signs.

The city of Orlando said they do have a comprehensive plan.

The Critical Incident Stress Management Policy was updated in 2023, but no staff members have been hired yet as they are still in training.

A city spokesperson said firefighters also have access to the employee assistance program, free mental health counseling, a chaplain, and insurance-covered access to psychologists.

They also said they contract with UCF Restores, a program that treats first responders with their trauma.

“We will continue to evaluate these initiatives and how we can further contribute to the well-being of our public safety personnel,” the spokesperson said.

All of that was not enough for Huggins, and now his friends and family said they will do whatever it takes to bring more awareness to the epidemic so what happened to Huggins won’t happen to anyone else.

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Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

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