Firefighters Fight Suicide: When the Helpers Need Help

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Little boys and girls around the world eagerly choose firefighting as their future career paths when asked. Firefighters have long been celebrated, deservingly so, as the heroes, the helpers, the ultimate symbol of invincibility. So what happens when the helpers need help? When the Gelt Charitable Foundation, a non-profit sponsored by Gelt Financial, first embarked on their mission to make suicide awareness training accessible, they knew there was an urgent need for training focused on first responders. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2019, 119 firefighters lost their lives to suicide, compared to the 48 who were killed on the line of duty. “We couldn’t stand by, knowing our country’s heroes were silently suffering,” Jack Miller, the founder at the Gelt Charitable Foundation, said, “and we knew we had the tools and the desire to be a part of the solution.” The Gelt Charitable Foundation is a leader in suicide prevention education, and has made first responder mental health awareness an issue of absolute priority. They have conducted workshops all over the world, including South Africa, Canada, Israel, and the U.S. Most recently, they trained law enforcement in Sarasota, Florida, another sect of first responders struggling with a very real suicide epidemic.

Lieutenant Charles Popp has 35 years at the fire department under his belt. Amidst those years, he became a licensed clinician specialized in working with first responders. After doing crisis intervention in a clinic that specialized in suicide prevention for almost 25 years, a desperate need for clinicians specifically trained to work with firefighters became very apparent to him. “Firefighters do not typically present with the usual symptoms [of suicidal ideation], and despite strong efforts to reduce stigma, there is still a strong reluctance for the helpers to ask for help,” Popp said, “it’s important that there are clinicians who understand the culture of first responders, who won’t blush at the stories that they are told.” Often, after a suicide in the department, colleagues find it hard to believe that it was the life of the party, or the one that had just been telling them about their home renovations. They never would have known that they were that close to taking their own life.

The Gelt Charitable Foundation has teamed up with the Boston Fire Department for an impressive undertaking, the first of its kind for the fire department: to train 1,500 firefighters in suicide awareness. They will be conducting 72 workshops over a month and a half, beginning Monday, July 26th. The workshop is titled “If you See Something, Say Something”. This version is a specialized version that has been created for first responders, and particularly focuses on the needs that they have in being able to help their brothers and sisters in the department. The workshop goes deep into the warning signs of suicidal ideation, and more importantly, how to respond to those signs. “We’re here to demystify and destigmatize this conversation,” shared Leigh Ioffe, the director of education at the Gelt Charitable Foundation, “Firefighters have seen everything, and we are here to ensure they know what to do with it all.”

The Gelt Charitable Foundation provides affordable and accessible world-class suicide prevention and mental wellness education. For more information regarding this event, contact Ella at esteinmetz@geltcharitable.foundation. To learn more about bringing one of their workshops to your business or community, visit geltcharitable.foundation/mentalhealth.

The Gelt Charitable Foundation is funded by Gelt Financial: https://geltfinancial.com/.

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