Firefighter's suicide leads to prevention efforts

Firefighter's suicide leads to action

FAIRFAX, VA (WUSA9) - Five months after Fairfax Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff took her own life, the county's Fire and Rescue Department is taking on a huge event to prevent more suicides. It's part of a broad community-based coalition.

The suicide of Nicole Mittendorf hit the Fairfax County Fire Department hard. But because of Leigh Boswell, firefighters are coming out to the Walk to Fight Suicide in Fairfax on Saturday. And they're hoping Nicole's legacy will save others.

Boswell is a member of the Virginia Professional Firefighters union and a retired Fairfax County firefighter. 

Memorial Day was her turning point. Boswell was visiting the newest graves at Arlington National Cemetery's section 60 and laying flowers. She found the most recent grave and wrote down his name. She looked up the soldier and found out that after two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he took his own life.

Boswell decided that moment that she needed to do something to make a difference. She called the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and learned they needed a chair for the Fairfax Out of the Darkness Walk to Fight Suicide.

"There is no shame in losing someone to suicide. There's no shame in asking for help. We're trying to talk about suicide because talking saves lives. 42,000 people died of suicide last year, " Boswell said.

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No one knows why Nicole took her own life, but she had been bullied in an online gossip forum by people who appeared to be fellow fire fighters. Fire Chief Richard Bowers said they never identified who did it, and an internal investigation is still underway.  

"We wanted to make sure that we did everything we could and even more than we could to prevent another suicide," Bowers said.

Bowers said yes to the department 's involvement in Saturday's Walk. Firefighters will also raise money through a 24-hour workout to fight suicide.

"I just wanted to highlight the link between physical fitness and mental wellness. And I couldn't think of a better way to do it than have a 24-hour workout,” said the department’s wellness and fitness manager, Dennis Kotecki. “Since one of the stressors that firefighters face is working on a 24-hour shift and sleep deprivation."

Anybody can sign up to walk, where colored beads will be given away. Each color represents a person affected by suicide.

So far, 700 people are signed up to walk and they've raised 115,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

The walk is being held at the Fairfax County Government Center at 1 p.m. on Saturday. For more information on the event, click here. 


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