The City of Dallas is contemplating a plan to offer paid mental health leave for firefighters. This movement is being lead by the Dallas Fire Association.
Dallas Fire Association President, Jim McDade, says the time for the benefit is necessary, Fox 4 reported.
“We are there for everything from pediatric to CPR to gunshots, to you name it,” McDade said. “This is something to make sure our firefighters are taken care of. I view it as one of the first steps to get someone help who needs help.”
The trauma and events that first responders encounter has long-term effects. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, firefighters experience “secondary trauma” or “compassion fatigue” from repeated exposure to trauma.
The U.S. Fire Administration is an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Fire Administration says some firefighters may not be diagnosed with PTSD but suffer from symptoms such as sleep disorders, avoidance behaviors, and feelings of helplessness that are associated with PTSD.
“The cumulative effect of regularly caring for the broken bodies and wounded minds of victims and their families — is thought to have a negative psychological impact on firefighters’ own mental health,” said the U.S. Fire Administration. “Previous studies have looked at firefighter mental health challenges in the context of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), which relies on assessment instruments attuned to one particular traumatic event.”
The new policy in the City of Dallas would be in place for all firefighters and paramedics. Currently, mental health days are only provided for police officers.
In October, the Dallas City Council approved new guidelines to include peace officers impacted by on-duty trauma after a state law went into effect.
Still, it did not include other first responders, such as fire and rescue.
Dallas has had five firefighters commit suicide in the past ten years, two of which were last November.
According to the CDC, law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Additionally, Emergency Medical Technician (EMS) providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the public.
“Many firefighters appear to effectively manage their emotional response to trauma,” the U.S. Fire Administration said. “Future research should explore their protective coping methods and resiliency.”
Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn believes the leave is a dire need for a change.
“We have to make sure we have the resources available to help them,” she said. “They’re seeing horrible traffic accidents with mangled bodies. They’re working on people, lifesaving operations, that aren’t always successful. It’s a very difficult job.”
The policy would allow fire department employees to have forty hours of leave per fiscal year. For the two-thousand workers in the department, it would have a total cost of $504,000 per year.
The council is also considering broadening the benefits to all city employees, which would cost around $705,600.
The new benefits would be funded by unbudgeted revenue collected from increased sales taxes from last year.