HERO Act Aims to Help First Responders

SACRAMENTO -- On World Suicide Prevention Day lawmakers unveiled a plan to help first responders.

First responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a study from the Ruderman Family Foundation. They often face unique stressors and trauma.

"You see things that no human being should see and you see it on a regular basis," said Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn. "And that affects everybody differently but it takes its toll."

According to data from the National Library of Medicine, people working in protective services like firefighters and police officers, are more than three times as likely to commit suicide as other workers.

Congressman Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, is hoping to shrink those numbers by proposing a new bill, the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Act, or HERO Act.

"My first instinct as a doctor was, OK, let’s find out what’s going on and then let’s try to figure out what we can do to prevent the suicides," Bera said.

The bill calls for further data collection on suicides among first responders to help get to the root of the problem.

“Knowing how someone died and then trying to take that data and say, 'OK, was there a specific instance that happened?'" Bera said. "And that helps us then say, 'What’s the right intervention?'"

The bill would also put a grant program in place for peer-support training programs, a system already working for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

"Any of those types of incidents where we know that are going to wear hard on our personnel, we're able to pull them aside, have those conversations with them and make sure we reach back out," said Sacramento Metro Fire Assistant Chief Maurice Johnson.

The bill also calls for more training for mental health care providers on how to treat firefighters specifically.

It's all to make sure the men and women keeping us safe also take care of themselves.

"Oftentimes we try to do everything we can to help someone else but don’t really remember or realize that we need help ourselves," Johnson said.

Congressman Bera proposed the bill near the end of July and on Monday it was in committee.