Stuck in the Shadows: Firefighters Battling PTSD:
Jim Brinkely, a former firefighter from Prince George's County, said firefighters deal with traumatic events on a daily basis, many of which stay with them forever.
"I can hear the young kid in the truck," he said, recollecting one of the more painful memories. "Sixteen-years-old was screaming for help in the truck. And he just couldn't get out. The truck was on fire."
He's was describing a deadly accident on the Beltway when he first began his career. He said unfortunately, it was just one of many emotional calls.
"I remember the Thanksgiving Day fire in Seat Pleasant," he said. "Where we lost six children. Those things stick with you forever. And then I go home and think about my kids. What if they were my kids? What would happen? How would I survive something like that?"
And it's the sustained grief of these calls that push many firefighters toward PTSD. The Journal of Occupational Health estimates that some 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics suffer from the condition. Other studies show that nearly half of firefighters have considered suicide, and just over 15 percent have attempted suicide.
"Our members are on the front lines every day," said Brinkley. "They respond instantly whether it's a car accident on the Beltway, a house fire - it's literally every day. And multiple times a day."
Addressing The Problem:
To try and solve this ongoing problem the International Association of Firefighters has teamed up with Advanced Recovery Systems, to create a new treatment center that would help firefighters battling PTSD. The Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, formally opened their doors on Sunday afternoon in Upper Marlboro.
Abby Morris, the medical director for the center, said that it can house some 64 patients at a time.
"We want it to be a place where people can relax," she said. "We also want people to feel as if they are away from a lot of the stress and tension. We really want them to focus on themselves for a change."
The center is located on a 15-acre plot of land, "designed to support fire fighters as they seek treatment and recovery."
"This is the first of it's kind," said Patrick Morrison, a former Fairfax County Firefighter, and a member of the IAFF. "It's a center that doesn't exist anywhere else."
Morrison said the center can help break down the stigma that firefighters are "too tough" to ask for help.
"That mentality has to go away," he said. "And it's going to take years for us to realize that the stigma about mental health doesn't help anybody. Doesn't help any firefighter today."