Breaking News
More () »

Charlotte Fire Department prioritizes mental health

Firefighters put others' lives ahead of their own and are seen as heroes, but they say, it's time to open up the dialogue.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dozens of firefighters are killed each year in the line of duty, and thousands more are injured. But many suffer from invisible wounds like PTSD or mental health issues. 

To improve mental wellness, the Charlotte Fire Department has developed an internal behavioral health program to incorporate mental health into its workforce. 

Firefighters put others' lives ahead of their own and are seen as heroes, but they say, it's time to open up the dialogue.

For the latest breaking news, weather and traffic alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app.

“We go home, we’re humans also," CFD Captain Andre Fuller said.

For Fuller, he remembers the day it became too much to bear. 

“I did CPR on a child that’s my son's age, so just seeing that affected me tremendously," Fuller said. 

He found comfort in the fire department's peer support team.

“Another firefighter has been through the same thing I have, and he can speak on the things I have seen, and I can get it off my chest and not feel judged and it destroys the stigma of feeling weak for feeling a certain way,” Fuller said.

According to the CDC, first responders are more likely to die by suicide, but sometimes stigma can be a barrier to getting treatment.

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.

Now, CFD is taking another step in prioritizing mental health by recently hiring behavior health specialist, Nicole Burg. She's available 24/7.

“Having someone embedded into the system is so important because trust is big for first responders," Burg.

Burg said it's time the heroes take care of themselves too. 

“Just because we’re suffering with something, doesn’t mean we cannot do our job; doesn’t mean we can’t continue to help people," Burg said.

The fire department also has therapy dogs for their firefighters.

They're used to comfort and calm firefighters through high-stress and traumatic situations.

CFD Fire Inspector and K9 Handler, Rick Dunton, explained the importance of the department's first therapy dog, named Cat.

“We’re actually working with the peer support team when we go and do debriefings, sometimes people just don’t feel like talking because it’s too raw, but that’s what we have her for,"  Dunton said. 

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Before You Leave, Check This Out