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OFD providing support & training to prevent member suicides

Posted at 6:47 PM, Jan 30, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Across the nation, fire departments are dealing with a common problem..suicides among firefighters. Here in the Metro, the Omaha Fire Department (OFD) has lost firefighters and says it's an issue people need to keep talking about.

"He was very fun, a great dad and he was a good husband," says Heather Livengood.

Since 2014, life has been different for her.

"It's difficult to raise children by yourself," she says.

Her husband Rich, an Omaha firefighter, died but non in the line of duty.

"I'd come to grips and was ok with him possibly dying in the line of duty, doing the thing that he loved...helping others," she says. "I don't think I will ever come to grips that he took his own life."

As a firefighter, so much goes into helping others. that you may forget to help someone who needs it the most...yourself.

"We actually had no idea what was going on...he was not sleeping," says Livengood.

Being a first responder is a tough job, not just for the work you do but the things you end up seeing as well.

"You see a lot of trauma, you see a lot of death and I think one thing firefighters struggle with is a lot of times...those things are preventable," says Omaha Fire Department Assistant Chief Kathy Bossman . "You might see a death in a crash because someone was drinking and driving."

A recent report showed firefighter suicides in 2019 are more than double the number who died in the line of duty. Those suicides are just the ones reported so the number may be even higher.

"It's definitely a huge concern in the fire service, and in Omaha we experienced, recently, a suicide in June of 2019," says Bossman.

With those concerns, departments across the nation, like Omaha, are working to eliminate the stigma that first responders shouldn't have to ask for help.

"Firefighters traditionally have wanted to fix problems and it has in years past been perceived as a weakness if you admit I'm struggling...I'm having a hard time, I might be depressed I might have anxiety. All of those things were perceived to be a weakness," says Bossman.

There's a continued effort for growing peer support. Many firefighters in Omaha are trained to look for signs of a fellow coworker dealing with mental health concerns.

"I think to any first responder that's struggling please reach out, reach out to the peer support team reach out to a friend...the more you're talking about what's bothering you the easier the process will be," says Bossman.

Not a day goes by that Livengood doesn't think about her late husband. That's why she continues to share his story, hoping it may keep someone else from going down the same path.

"Getting the story out there maybe empowers the firefighters and paramedics to get examined, to examine where they're at and maybe they're not ok or maybe they are ok but just having it being talked about makes them think again," she says.