First responders and dealing with post-traumatic stress - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

First responders and dealing with post-traumatic stress

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WEST RICHLAND, WA - Firefighters see and deal with devastating events on a regular basis, and it can have lasting effects on their mental health.

Crystal Murphy served as a firefighter and EMT for the Lacey Fire Department. After years of struggling with post-traumatic stress, she took her life on Christmas Day.

"From a day-to-day perspective firefighters see a lot of things that no human should ever have to see," said Chief Bill Whealan with Benton County Fire District 4. "We see a lot of awful things and sometimes the only way to relieve that feeling is by talking about it."

A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation shows first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

Bonnie Benitz, a firefighter for 15 years and the only full-time woman in her department, says at times she feels like being a woman in the fire service can make it harder to be able to talk through the things they experience.

"Firefighters, we're supposed to be strong," said Captain Benitz with Benton County Fire District 4, "and so it seems that it's okay if we break a leg or sprain an ankle, we'll go get help for that... but if we have a mental health injury it's perceived as a sign of weakness."

This is why Chief Whealan is working with Seattle Fire to start a peer support group in the Tri-Cities to help first responders deal with stress of the traumatic events they see.

The number for the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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