Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) invites the community to take part in “We Remember Night” on Friday, May 19, 2017, at 9 p.m. in recognition of Mental Health Awareness month. We Remember Night is a nationwide event that sheds light on the growing issue of firefighter and EMS provider suicide, and is a show of support for those families who have lost a loved one to this tragedy.
Citizens are invited to join firefighters at any Alachua County Fire Rescue Station to take a moment and reflect on those firefighters and EMS workers who have died by completing suicide. Public Safety crews place their apparatus on the station driveway and turn on their emergency lights for one minute to express support for all the families that have suffered a loss. Memorial candles will be available for anyone wishing to come out and remember a loved one.
Media are encouraged to join event organizers at Station 16 (1600 Fort Clarke Boulevard, Gainesville). Staff will be available for interviews beginning at 8:30 p.m.
We Remember Night is organized by the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, an organization committed to drawing attention to the issue of suicide in the fire and EMS industry. Last year 134 firefighters died by suicide nationwide; this year there have been 31.
The Alachua County Commission has made mental health awareness a point of focus. Recently, all Alachua County employees attended a “Mental Health First Aid” class which provided attendees with a broad understanding of mental illness and taught a variety of methods by which they could assist a person experiencing a mental health crisis. ACFR formed a Peer Support Team to assist department members in dealing with the traumatic events that are so often seen in their line of work. The department also works closely with the Alachua County Crisis Center for ongoing mental health training and understanding how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect public safety workers.
This local event is organized by Robert Smith who not only works as a firefighter, but also serves as ACFR Chaplin and the leader of the Peer Support Team. “We respond to so many terrible tragedies,” said Smith. “Any one of those calls has the potential to overcome the normal coping mechanisms that we have. In serving as Chaplain, I have seen the toll that years of dealing with these events have taken on some of my co-workers, and it’s important that we offer an outlet for them to deal with those feelings to prevent suicide.”
Photos taken during the event will be shared with the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance so that those families who have been touched by suicide can see that “we remember.”
The Alachua County Crisis Center is available 24/7 for all citizens, including first responders, in distress. Additionally, individual, family and group counseling is available to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. The Crisis Center can be reached at 352-264-6789 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
For more information, contact Robert Smith at 352-235-1280.