Firefighters gather to talk about mental health

(KDVR) -- Every day, firefighters rush into the unknown, and that willingness to run toward danger comes with a heavy burden. Just last week, West Metro Fire Rescue got a call for a truck fire on C-470. Two people died on scene.

“We don’t know what we’re going to be coming into,” said West Metro Fire Capt. John Brennan. “We encounter people on their worst days, and a lot times that even deals with death.”

For those facing fires, accidents and deaths over and over, it can take a toll.

“If you don’t have the resilience that you might have had when you were younger, it can catch up to you,” said Denver Fire Department Capt. Greg Pixley.

Behavioral health for firefighters is the reason why more than 300 first responders flocked to Denver Thursday for the Fire Service Behavioral Health Symposium that spans two days at the Denver Hyatt Regency.

“There isn’t a family in a city in this country, including mine, that hasn’t been touched by mental health,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

They’re there to discuss what departments are doing right to confront firefighters’ struggles with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other issues prevalent in first responders across the country.

“It is something that can be tough, and we have different things to deal with that, such as a peer support team,” Brennan said.

“We provide counseling to all our members and their immediate family members, along with a robust peer support group,” said DFD Chief Eric Tase.

There’s also a bigger emphasis on spotting symptoms of depression in firefighters early and giving them anonymous platforms to reach out for help.

“They have to have trust that when they access these services, those services will never be used against them,” Tase said.

If you’re a first responder, you can text “BADGE” to 741741 to talk to a crisis counselor 24/7. The service is free.

There are also resources available for departments and families dealing with the loss of a firefighter.  You can find a full list here.