Firefighters Open Treatment Center For Their Own

By Kelly Burch 01/07/19

The center provides beds for 60 firefighters to get treatment for substance use disorder, mental illness or other behavioral health conditions.


The opioid epidemic has touched people from all walks of life, including first responders, who often find it hard to reach out for help in a work culture that involves putting others first and brushing vulnerabilities aside. That’s why a new treatment center has opened, aimed specifically at helping firefighters who need support with addiction and mental health issues. 

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) opened the Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery last year just outside Washington, DC. It is set up similarly to a firehouse and provides beds for 60 firefighters to get treatment for substance use disorder, mental illness or other behavioral health conditions, whether they are associated with work or not. 

“It's really a state-of-the-art facility for our membership,” Ray Maione, a captain in the Phoenix Fire Department and vice president of member services for the United Phoenix Firefighters, Local 493, told Arizona Family. “To see it come to fruition is really pretty impressive; a lot of work went into this.”

Maione said that the services are much needed for firefighters who are hesitant to seek help. 

“We're problem solvers, I mean we run into burning buildings when they're on fire, so people think, and we think, we're invincible," he said. "And sometimes it just builds up. . . . When a firefighter reaches out I know they've already exhausted every option they have and they're in crisis.”

On-the-job injuries can expose firefighters to potent painkillers, and traumatic events can erode firefighters’ mental health, he said. 

“We started to notice a big increase in suicides, a big increase in opioid addiction,” Maione said.

Tyler Ramsey, a firefighter, first started using opioids for a back injury but noticed with time that he was becoming dependent on the pills. 

“You get a prescription for an opiate or a pain medication, and at the start it's need-based,” said Ramsey. “. . . Once it gets a hold of you, you use that as a crutch.”

He told himself that because a doctor prescribed the pills they weren’t dangerous. 

“I guess it gives you a false sense of security, almost, that it's prescribed by a medical professional," Ramsey said. "But being a fireman, I thought, 'Oh I can control this. I don't need to ask for help. I can manage this.’”

However, when thoughts of opioids began taking over his day-to-day life, he realized he had a substance use problem. 

“It's the last thing you think about before you close your eyes at night and the first thing when you open your eyes in the morning, which is a pretty terrible place to be,” he said. When Ramsey reached out to colleagues, they got him into rehab that day, and they help him stay sober. 

“I'm happy, upright, breathing and living a normal life again," he said. "I feel like I've been afforded a second chance.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.