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Proposed Legislation Aims to Help First Responders Struggling With Psychological Trauma

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SACRAMENTO -- First responders are often forced to deal with trauma on a daily basis and for some, it eventually takes a toll.

Now, lawmakers in California are trying to make it easier for firefighters, police officers and others in the emergency services sector to get help.

"In 2010, I was involved in a house explosion. It injured me, I was burned," said Mike Feyh.

Feyh said after that explosion he and his crew suffered trauma and signs of PTSD.

"Some of the research has shown that 20 percent of firefighters, public safety professionals, are suffering from some of these things," Feyh told FOX40.

Today, Feyh works with other firefighters on emotional health through peer support groups.

Whether it's near-death experiences fighting wildfires or responding to fatal calls, sometimes involving children, Feyh said first responders go through trauma they often don't know how to deal with properly.

"So, years after years they’ll throw one more thing in the closet and then someday it’ll just take one thing and it’ll kick that closet door open," he explained. "We started to realize regionally that we suffering one firefighter death a year from suicide."

Now, lawmakers are stepping in.

"So, we all come out and say thoughts and prayers for our first responders. 'We appreciate you.' But words are a little thin," said Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas.

Stern comes from a district where in one year first responders handled a deadly mass shooting and a massive wildfire.

He authored Senate Bill 542 to provide first responders with workers' compensation while they recover from their mental health scars.

"People think that they need to be a tough guy when they do these jobs," Stern told FOX40. "The real toughness is in saying you need help. This bill is supposed to create that kind of space."

Feyh said it's an important step and one that might stop another firefighter or police officer from taking their own life or suffering in silence because of on-the-job trauma.

"Hopefully with this legislation, more people are gonna start to come forward and actually seek the help that they need," he said.

Sen. Stern said he hasn’t quite put the numbers together for a total cost but says it will likely be less than $10 million annually, a small sliver of California's multi-billion dollar annual budget.

The bill passed through the first committee without any opposition.

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