First Watch: Helping the Heroes Who Help Us

West Virginia

First responders are everyday heroes. They are constantly running toward danger — after bad guys and into burning buildings. But while they’re busy saving us, who is saving them? 

“We’re supposed to be the tough people,” said Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader. “We’re supposed to suck it up and just let it role off your back, but we see a lot of horrible things.” 

Rader describes it as a tough job, one that can eventually take its tole. 

“We’re like the calvary,” remarked Rader. “We run in, make a difference, and go home. But we don’t always take care of ourselves.” 

Rader referenced the a 2017 study done by the Ruderman Family Foundation. According to the study, more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty. 

It’s a national trend but for the Huntington Fire Department, its a story that hits close to home. 

Last month the department lost a brother to suicide. Chris Coleman was described a talented, kind, and dedicated. He was a loving father, son, and brother. Coleman was a second generation firefighter, following in his father, Bob’s, footsteps. 

“He wanted to be proud of something and accomplish something in his life,” said Bob Coleman. “So he joined the fire department in 2013 and he was real proud of what he was doing.”

Former Chief Forrest Marshall describes Chris as a standout. 

“He was a natural. He signed on was doing great but in a matter of five years he was struggling,” recalled Marshall. 

A study done by the University of Phoenix estimates that 85 percent of first responders deal with some sort of mental illness at some point within their career. 

“Us first responders — firefighters, medics, police officers — we all see a lot of horrible things,” said Bob Coleman. “And sometimes we need help, but its not always easily available. 

Last year House Bill 4429 was introduced. The bill aimed to provide workers compensation benefits to first responders diagnosed with PTSD. It failed. 

“Frankly, we are doing our first responders a major disservice,” said House Delegate Chad Lovejoy. Lovejoy, who says the bill remains a top priority among Republicans and Democrats alike, hopes to introduce another similar bill.  

Bob Coleman added, ” You can compensate a physical injury, and you should be able to compensate a mental injury too. mental injury should be too. We see things that we can’t unsee, that we can’t forget… and we need help.” 

Coleman hopes his son’s story helps to save just one life. 

“We would hope that no other family has to go what we went through. To loose a child to suicide — to something that is preventable —  we don’t want another family to go through what we went through because the pain is unbearable.” 

Dr. Rachel Hatfield is a licensed psychologist. She says there are certain symptoms PTSD and mental health symptoms to look out for. She also stressed the importance of asking for help. 

“Mood swings, lack of appetite, if you can’t sleep, those are the most common symptoms,” said Dr. Hatfield, who added, “Often times, people feel like they can’t ask for help or don’t know where to turn. 

Help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 day a week at 1-800-273-8255. 

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