AFD expanding support services for firefighters struggling with PTSD, depression

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - It's often easy to see the signs of a fire, but the impacts of regularly responding to events like fires and other tragedies are often more difficult to spot. The Anchorage Fire Department is working on expanding two groups that will help firefighters cope with the challenges of a job that many may not understand.

"I don't think the general public does," says Captain John Paff. "You know some of our firefighters don't realize the loads they carry with them throughout their lives and careers."

Captain Paff says the vivid memories of responding to fatal or horrific accidents can lead to deeper issues. He says firefighters have always had to lean on each other for support, but up until last year that support wasn't clearly outlined.

Now, there are 15 people within AFD trained into the Behavioral Health Task Force. They can read the signs of depression or post traumatic stress disorder and talk to a firefighter about getting help.

Since it was started last year, AFD discovered the need for these services among firefighters isn't exclusive to Anchorage, inspiring the formation of the Alaska Firefighter Peer Support program which has 20 people trained to do the same work.

"The two kind of go hand in hand. The behavioral health task group is more AFD specific, right here," says Captain Paff. "The Alaska Firefighter Peer Support is for the entire state."

The Alaska Firefighter Peer Support group will conduct training sessions in November to add to its numbers.

Preventing suicide is the ultimate goal of the groups, according to Captain Paff. He doesn't believe Alaska has seen any firefighters commit suicide related to their work, but nationwide statistics show 99 firefighters and 30 EMS workers committed suicide in 2015.

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