Breaking News
More () »

Mass shootings, traumatic weather impacts mental health of first responders

Sacramento Fire is still one of the only organizations in the region with a unit dedicated to behavioral health services.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Communities across California are still shaken up by the recent series of mass shootings, and the horror is compounded with the days-on-end rainstorms that killed at least 20 people in Northern California.

Over the last few weeks, we've seen heroic images of our first responders coming to the rescue. It's in times like these we should remember to check in with our heroes.

"Here in the United States, we outsource 100% of our traumatic events to our first responders. Police and fire are the first to respond to those events," said Captain Richard Alamo.

He runs the Behavioral Health Unit at the Sacramento Fire Department.

He says events like the flooding where people were swept away in their cars, last year's K Street shooting in downtown Sacramento, and even putting out house fires and our state's forest fires can have a dangerous impact on the brave people showing up to help.

"We understand that it's part of the job but we also have to remember our brain doesn't know that we wear a badge and a uniform. Our brain just knows that we're human. And, reminding our members that it's okay to have a normal human response to those traumatic events," said Alamo.

He says talking about mental health was taboo until about five years ago. Sacramento Fire is still one of the only organizations in the region with a unit dedicated to behavioral health services.

It's not only important to be physically fit, but also mentally fit.

"Firefighters are most likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. On average we lose 2-4 first responders a day to suicide," said Alamo.

To combat the devastating statistic, they have a peer support team made up of 64 members and two K-9s. The newest member is a dog, Miss Ember ‘Lew’ Wiggles.

"Her middle name is Lew in memory of Billy Lewis who was a firefighter who committed suicide after a long battle with post-traumatic stress," said Alamo. "Nothing prepared him for the images that he saw, the calls that he went on, those traumatic experiences. It takes a lot of courage to raise your hand and say, 'I need help.' And once you do, we have plenty of resources available to get you that help."

Two nonprofits key in making this behavioral health unit thrive are the Patriotic Dog Foundation and Warfighter Overwatch.

WATCH MORE ON ABC10: Sac Metro firefighters face new challenges with electric vehicle fires

Before You Leave, Check This Out