Marion County unveils new mental health plan for first responders after 2 suicides

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — Marion County has new mental health plan for first responders after two firefighters suicides last year.


“We have to do something different” That is what the Marion county fire chief said more than a year ago when they lost 2 firefighters to suicide just weeks apart, and just yesterday Channel 9 told you about an Orlando firefighter who took his own life since then.

Well now Marion county fire has come up with a mental health plan that some are calling a mental health road map for the state’s firefighters.

We talked to Marion County Fire Rescue spokesman James Lucas just after the department lost two firefighters back to back to suicide. He urged firefighters to talk about what is bothering them whether it is here, or at home. James Lucas said, “You know that the days of the bravado and suck it up, buttercup, are no longer prevalent.”

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

But even for the most seasoned firefighter, the answer on how to deal with mental health inside these fire departments was not easy to come by.

Marion County Fire chief James Banta said, “Anybody who thinks that they have the answer right now, that they’re fooling themselves right they’re maybe looking at the easy things....and as a as an agency, as a community, as a country, we have to figure out a way to solve this really epidemic”

In an emotional message online, chief Banta explained what his department was going in the short term:

Read: ‘If they knew what we saw’: What’s being done to reduce number of suicides among firefighters

He brought in a mental health strike team, including outside peer support, clinicians and even canine support, but now the department has come up with a more long term solution pushed for by the Marion County fire union.

A behavioral health assessment program is becoming the standard of care for first responders to reduce the effects of a critical incident. In 52 pages, it lays out a road map for firefighters who may be dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues and it starts with mental health awareness before something tragic happens.

The health plan shows that trained professionals like chaplains and physicians and even psychologists will be available for firefighters at any time.

Read: ‘We have to do something different’: Chief says after 2 firefighter suicides

There will be an immediate rotation of firefighters out of critical incidents to lessen their exposure and offered treatment for substance abuse along the way.

It also means education on not only warning signs, but also how to deal with what just happened will be available. It’s hard to tell if this plan will make a difference, but it’s a start, which, firefighters say is desperately needed.

Union vice president Joe Romani told Channel 9 the following:

“The Professional Fire Fighters of Marion County believe that the solution to the mental health crisis will come from a joint effort of our members and department. As public servants, we each hold the responsibility of taking care of ourselves and each other while serving in this profession. We are thankful for Marion County’s immediate response to help members in crisis and we can not express enough gratitude to the International Association of Fire Fighters for sending their entire team to assist us after the passing of Tripp Wooten and Allen Singleton. We will continue to fight for recognition and assistance for our members.”

Mike Rodriquez works at Orlando fire, His best friend just took his life in April. He told us, “When it comes to mental health progressive and aggressive change this is not just an Orlando fire department problem. This is a problem throughout the country just a week after Jeff’s death a south Daytona fireman took his own life somewhere at the panhandle a guy went missing for you know a couple days before they deemed it a suicide or found him this is a problem!”

We tried to talk to Marion county about their long term goals, but multiple emails to the department to talk with them went unanswered.

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Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

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