Fire Chief Speaks on PTSD, Mental Illness, Suicide, among Firefighters, First Responders

Tracy Natyshok, Park Forest Fire Chief, St. Irenaeus Church, PTSD
Park Forest Fire Chief Tracy Natyshok speaks at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service at St. Irenaeus Church in October 2018. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- In what is most certainly one of the most moving presentations at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service during Fire Prevention Week, Park Forest Fire Chief Tracy Natyshok spoke of the need for awareness and treatment of PTSD, stress, mental illness, as well as  suicide prevention for firefighters and other first responders.

The Fire Chief spoke of all firefighters give, and how what they see and experience can wear at them over time.

But there’s still something that captures the popular imagination about the job.

“It’s hard to think of a more selfless profession than that of a firefighter,” Chief Natyshok said. “There’s a reason why firefighting guys have a special place in our imaginations, why little boys and girls grow up wanting to be a firefighter.  They understand instinctually there’s something special about our job.”

There’s also the human side of the firefighter, Chief Natyshok went on to say, “While firefighters may be brave and fearless heroes to young children, it’s important to know that we also suffer from the same challenges the general public does. We have financial issues, marital and family issues.”

“Now, you compound that with the tragedy that we see every day, day in and day out, and it adds up, and eventually takes a toll,” the chief continued. “Unfortunately, most firefighters won’t let you know a call bothered them. In fact, the details of how it relates to them and their families may be eating them up on the inside.”

“Firefighters don’t like to talk about the details of their job or their shifts with their family,” Chief Natyshok said. “I think it’s because they try to protect the family from the pain and suffering that they see on a daily basis.”

“Although being a firefighter is one of the most noble of callings, it does take a toll in our minds, bodies, and souls,” the chief said.,

“Studies have shown that firefighters are exposed to more dramatic stress in a single 24-hour shift than the average American experiences in a lifetime,” Chief Natyshok said. He then shared this staggering statistic, “In 2017, there were 103 documented firefighter suicides in the United States, whereas there were 93 line-of-duty deaths.”

Chief Natyshok praised the strength of those in his profession, “The fire services and firefighters alike are known to be resilient in the face of adversity. The fire service is known for its ability to quickly recognize problems to determine solutions to save lives.

“We must now recognize that PTSD is an important issue for firefighters,” the chief emphasized. “Firefighters deal with many traumatic situations that eventually affect their well-being. Unfortunately, talking about mental health is considered taboo in the fire services.”

According to Chief Natyshok, the International Association of Firefighters recently conducted a study across America. “Seven thousand firefighters responded, overwhelmingly reporting stressful the traumatic experiences in the job the job that impacted their mental health. 

“Among these struggles, 19% have considered suicide, 27% have struggled with substance abuse, 59% have experienced family or relationship problems, and 65% state that they’re haunted by memories of bad calls.  The study also showed 81% of firefighters surveyed feared that they’d be seen as weak if they admitted having something that bothers them. 

“The study also found that little is being done to address PTSD and depression in responders, even though they are five times more likely than civilians to suffer symptoms.”

“Firefighters and their families need to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental health issues to break down this stigma,” Chief Natyshok said. “Firefighters need to know it’s okay to have an emotional reaction to a traumatic event, and that they could talk to each other, other firefighters, or medical professionals who are educated to treat PTSD.”

Speaking to firefighters who were visiting for the ceremony as well as those from Park Forest, the chief said, “It’s very possible that members of your fire department or even you are suffering from PTSD.  There is no shame in this.  PTSD is real and can tear a family apart. 

“It could cost you to lose your job, and even drive some to suicide. 

“I encourage everyone in the fire service to reach out to each other and talk after each call, watch for the warning signs, and be there for one another.  Yes, we may be there rough and tough, and be able to handle anything, but the reality is, we are just humans,” Chief Natyshok concluded.

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