PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In the wake of the second suicide of a Philadelphia firefighter this year, the president of the Firefighters’ Union says the time has come to add additional resources to make sure uniformed personnel understand there is another alternative to cope with the tremendous stress they feel.

Local 22 President Bill Gault says there is a well-qualified Employee Assistance Program in place, but firefighters are reluctant to use it for two reasons: because they are afraid it will affect their job security and, “It’s very hard for a firefighter or medic to call somebody. We are taught from day one to suck it up. Our war vets right now are showing us the stuff we leave inside only grows and has to be taken care of and I just want them to have another avenue.”

Gault says suicide is not just a fire fighter problem, “I noticed the police, they had five (suicides) last year.” Gault is considering the development of a 1-800 number staffed with professionals not affiliated in any way with the Fire Department or Local 22, so uniformed personnel can be assured of complete confidentiality. LINK

This is good news. It looks as if PTSD and the stress related issues some of our guys are suffering from will be getting the attention it deserves. In this case it’s the firefighters union leading the way on this important issue as they always do. When Hepatitis- C was found to be affecting many of our members Local 22 initiated screening and testing and helped our guys get treatment. For years firefighters and paramedics responded to incident scenes where bodily fluids like blood were all over. In the era before universal precautions it was common for them to be covered with victim’s blood. They sometimes contracted Hep-C as a result. Despite every indication that this was the cause the city refused treatment for the firefighters.

The same is true for Cancer. Local 22 led the way in fighting for a Cancer presumption bill recently signed into law by Governor Tom Corbet (R). It’s now an acknowledged fact that firefighters are subject to many forms of Cancer due to our work in highly toxic atmospheres. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t learn of yet another firefighter coming down with a form of deadly or rare Cancer. As usual the city resisted helping.
When we noticed that many of our senior members were going deaf it was Local 22 that pushed for hearing protection for our members. As usual the city resisted.
After a fire we were forced to re-use the same wet, contaminated firefighting gear for the next shift. Gear was never cleaned. Local 22 pushed for firefighters to have a set of reserve gear and had a cleaning program instituted. You guessed it – the city resisted.
And now that it’s clear that there are serious mental health / stress issues affecting some of our membership, it was reported to me that the Medical Director wrote off the subject as “not his problem”. In fact it’s the 200 plus Paramedics he supervises that are at most at risk for PTSD and other shift work related stress problems. As usual our department craves leadership. Ironically the latest suicide, Firefighter Dave Panella spent a lot of time working in medic units.
Let me give credit where it is due: Local 22 President William Gault is taking a courageous stand on the issue. He is putting his neck out on an issue most people would rather not talk about. In my estimation he’s in a position to see the effects of stress on Philly’s firefighters and medics. While I have my issues with unions in general they do have a legitimate purpose. Looking out for the health and welfare of their membership, in this case saving their lives is one of them.


  1. CS says:

    Amen, keep this in the news and at the kitchen table and we will continue to see progress. In my few short years here we’ve lost more personel in “non-line of duty” situations (suicide, health problems, etc) then at any fire.

  2. Bob G. says:

    That iS good news…!

    (( Is that SMOKE-EATERS pub at the same location that the old Michelo’s used to be?
    That place was on the SE corner, across from the old George Yelland car lot, and I used to WORK there when I was in high school…owned by 3 brothers…all have passed, sadly.
    Good family – great food…nice people. )

    The PTSD issue will be welcome relief to those suffering, as well as the families and friends.
    (and about damn time, imho)

    Excellent news.

    You roll safe out there.

  3. momhoppes says:

    This is very good news! Thank you for sharing! I needed some good news today.

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