Bangor Fire looks to remove stigma on mental health for first responders

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 4:31 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - First responders are our local heroes.

What they all endure is unknown and often not discussed which can create a heavy load to carry alone.

Bangor Fire recently lost a brother due to suicide and the discussion around the mental health of first responders has been crucial.

“The want to help society, to give back to your community, that’s what got me into the fire service,” said Jared Willey, President of the Bangor Firefighters Association Local 772. “13 years ago, when I started, processing mental health was not a big concern. It was the suck it up and be a man mentality.”

Willey says that’s no longer an exception.

“We’ve developed this peer support program and partnered with the Professional Firefighters of Maine and the International Association of Firefighters,” said Willey.

With this partnership, they have clinicians on call to help process the initial exposure to a traumatic event.

Willey and his fellow brothers and sisters are working hard to knock down the stigma that prevents firefighters from addressing mental health, especially when you lose one of your own.

“All first responders, whether it’s fire, police, or military, in the moment, we are professional and task oriented, so we bury those thoughts,” said Willey. “Those thoughts get pushed back while you hear the screams and the horrors of the families that are going through that process, and then afterwards, we go back to the station and a lot of us bury that.”

Local psychologist Dr. David Prescott says feeling frustration or sadness is common, and sometimes, especially for first responders, it’s a process of healing.

“It is hard to know that somebody you cared about died that’s a first responder,” said Prescott. “The first responders see things that a lot of us don’t see. Those are images that are hard to get out of your head. The other thing is I try to get people to be patient. We all would like to heal up and feel better quickly, and sometimes, we just can’t.”

Willey and his fellow firefighters will always show up for the community, and they ask that the community and city officials stand up for them.

“Somebody’s got to do it, and when we are called to this job, we do not ignore that calling, and we’re going to come here and do everything we can to provide a level of service to the citizens of Bangor that they deserve,” said Willey. “All that we’re asking in return is that we get taken care of, too.”