www.FireEngineering.com Wellness Supplement FIRE ENGINEERING September 2018 | 7
leads to the conclusion that their death is
worth more than their life. Often, suicide
decedents take steps to reduce the impact
of their death on loved ones. For exam-
ple, they often notify 911 or complete the
act in an area away from family. Chief
David Dangerfield, Indian County (FL)
Fire Rescue, did just this. He drove to a
remote area, contacted 911, and told them
where to find his body. He then posted
a message on Facebook stating: “PTSD
for firefighters is real. If your loved one is
experiencing signs, get them help quickly.
27 years of deaths and babies dying in
your hands is a memory that you will
never get rid of. It haunted me daily until
now. My love to my crews. Be safe, take
care. I love you all.”
Sheriff deputies later found him dead
from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Although his message mentioned P TSD,
Dangerfield was also dealing with a
To further prove that suicide is not a
selfish act, Dr. Joiner and his colleagues
studied a group of prison inmates and
found that “Cleckley psychopath” features
were negatively associated with suicidal behavior. Cleckley psychopaths are
characterized as being utterly unfeeling,
except when it comes to themselves.
They are described as selfish to the core.
Dr. Joiner’s research found them to be
relatively immune from suicidal behavior.
( 4) In contrast, the less selfish group of
antisocial personality disorder was found
to be more vulnerable to suicide. ( 4)
Myth: Suicide is the easy way out.
The pain created in the wake of a
suicide often leads to a loved one’s thinking, “It was the easy way out.” Suicide
requires staring the product of millions
of years of evolution in the face and not
wavering. ( 4) The instinct to survive,
supported by the amygdala, makes
death by suicide incredibly difficult. The
amygdala is a small nucleus in the brain
that functions as the fear receptor and autonomically like the heart and lungs. We
don’t control our fear; rather, fear controls
us. However, as noted earlier, we can chip
away at this fear through habituation to
painful and fearsome experiences.
Suicide is tragic, fearsome, agonizing,
and awful. It is not easy. Populations that
had the highest rates of suicide in history
were those in concentration camps during
the Holocaust. Prior to their deaths, these
people endured unimaginable pain and
starvation, demonstrating the habituation
necessary to become capable of suicide.
As another example, the suicide rate for
winners of the Tour De France is 5,000
per 100,000, and the rate for a group of an-
orexic women was found to be 3,765 per
100,000. ( 4) These people have endured
physical pain and pushed their bodies
beyond their natural boundaries.
Myth: Suicide is an act of anger.
Anger is cited as a risk factor or warning sign for suicide in several suicide-pre-vention campaigns, including the American Association of Suicidology’s “IS PATH
WARM” suicide prevention acronym. The
second “A” in the acronym stands for anger. However, anger is a complicated risk
factor: There are many angry people, and
few die by suicide; most people who die
by suicide do not display anger. ( 4)
Those who died by suicide generally
experienced thoughts of burdensomeness and alienation. They turned their
anger or hate inward and became sad,
which led them to believe that their death
would be of service to others. The thing
to be mindful of here is that we should be
careful when identifying warning signs
and risk factors. Although they can guide
us, they can also lead to “false positives.”
We can make a greater impact by working
to remove the stigma surrounding mental
health disorders and suicide so that firefighters will be more likely to reach out for
help instead of suffering in silence.
These are just a few of the myths
surrounding suicide in the fire service. A
truth that adds some perspective to the
suicide dilemma of today is a fact that is
rarely discussed: The suicide rate for most
U.S. populations has drastically increased
during the past few decades. According
to the CDC, from 1999 through 2014, the
age-adjusted suicide rate (adjusted to
accurately represent the population) in
the United States increased by 24 percent.
Although suicide is a leading cause of
death, its research has been underfunded.
One reason for this, I believe, is the stigma
surrounding suicide and mental health
disorders. To make strides in prevention,
we must work to remove this stigma.
During his keynote address at the 2018
Fire Department Instructors Conference
(FDIC), DeGryse explained how we can
do this: “We need to modify the thoughts
and perceptions of being the tough,
rugged, strong, and resolute individuals
and what that means.” To do this, he says,
we should lead by example and model the
behavior we want to see in our coworkers.
We must demonstrate vulnerability and
encourage others to do the same. Through
having this courage, we can start to break
down the stigmas that inhibit help-seek-ing behavior. I highly recommend watching his keynote address “Straight Talk.”
1. Joiner, T. E., & Staff, A. P. (2009) Interpersonal Theory
of Suicide: Guidance for Working with Suicidal Clients .
Washington: American Psychological Association.
2. Savia, J. (2007). Suicide among North Carolina
professional firefighters. Virginia: ProQuest, 1-106.
3. Dimond, D. (2018, April 21). OPINION | Provide first
responders the help they need. Retrieved from
4. Joiner, T. E (2011) Myths about suicide. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
5. Firefighting occupations by women and race.
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nfpa.org/
6. Heyman, Miriam, et al. “The Rudeman White Paper
on Suicide and Mental Health Of First Responders.”
Ruderman Family Foundation, Apr. 2018, pp. 1–41.
7. Grossman, D. (2017, May 15). “Behind the Shield,”
Episode 27 [Interview by J. Geering]. In Behind the
Shield. Ocala, FL.
8. Collier, L. (2016, November). Growth after Trauma.
Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/
9. Bryan, C. J., Jennings, K. W., Jobes, D.A., & Bradley, J.C.
(2012) Understanding and Preventing Military Suicide.
Archives of Suicide Research, 16( 2) 95-110.
10. Suicide Statistics. (2018). Retrieved from https://afsp.
11. Hines, K. (2013) Cracked, not broken: surviving and thriving
after a suicide attempt. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
12. Hawkins, D. (2017, August 6). “Behind the Shield,” Episode
39 [Interview by J. Geering]. In Behind the Shield. Ocala, FL.
DENA ALI is a captain with the Raleigh
(NC) Fire Department and an intermediate
with Wake County EMS. Prior to becoming
a firefighter, she served five years as a police
officer in North Carolina. Ali has a degree
from North Carolina State University. She
is a graduate student at UNCP, and her
research focuses on firefighter suicide.
Ali taught her class on suicide prevention
at FDIC International 2018. She is an avid
cyclist and founding member of the Carolina
Brotherhood. Ali also serves as an advocate
for 555 Fitness.