Firefighters put their lives on the line every day, but the cumulation of those horrifying experiences can result in PTSD, causing some to ultimately commit suicide.
Indian River County Battalion Chief David Dangerfield took his own life in October 2016.
“He said, 'I can’t do it anymore. The memories are too much. They’re haunting me and I can’t let them haunt me anymore,'" said Leslie Dangerfield, his wife.
David had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
"He began a downward spiral with really irrational behavior, frightening behavior," Leslie said.
He was going through treatment, but the lasting effects of the memories from two decades of responding to trauma became too much for him.
"A boy who fell off a dock in the backyard on the water and he had to recover the baby’s body," Leslie said. "Another one was a shark attack of a teenager who didn’t make it and he had to carry that body across the sand."
After her husband's death, she realized he wasn't alone in his suffering.
“Wives were coming up to me and saying I think my husband has it too," she said. "It. PTSD.”
Leslie decided to bring awareness to that stigmatized acronym.
"I felt that I needed to educate so this doesn’t happen to anyone else," she said.
Next week, she's helping to bring the founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, Jeff Bill, to Palm Beach Fire Rescue for training sessions on the signs of PTSD.
“If we can educate firefighters and we can prevent one person from doing something that could hurt themselves or their family then we’ve met our goal," said Sean Baker, Palm Beach Fire Rescue Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services.
Baker said David Dangerfield's death affected departments around the area.
"It could’ve been any one of our people," he said.
So the fire department is taking an active approach to recognizing PTSD in first responders.
“Putting your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist is not going to work anymore," he said. "Especially in the fire service.”
The more people that can be helped, the deeper David's legacy.
"It’s helping us heal," Leslie said.
All members of Palm Beach Fire Rescue will go through the PTSD training next week, but the sessions are also open to the public or any other type of first responders.
The sessions are offered January 10-12 at either 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Palm Beach Fire Rescue Station 3 at 2185 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, 33480.
There’s a session specifically for adult family members on Saturday, January 13, from 8:30 a.m-10:30 a.m.
Contact Belinda at 561-838-5420 or Stephanie at 561-227-6430 to register.
Jeff Bichler, who only represents injured and disabled first responders in his law practice, is also sponsoring the training. He said training is the first piece in helping the problem because it makes people aware that it exists.