TRENTON, N.J. – First responders are at increased risk for suicide due to their high-stress jobs and the toll it can take on their mental health. Under a bill (A2962) introduced by Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, New Jersey would be required to report suicides by firefighters and emergency medical personnel to the Department of Health.
The bill would address a gap in a law that will go into effect in July that requires police suicides to be reported to the attorney general.
“The physical risks are more apparent than the mental and emotional burden that comes with being a first responder,” said DePhillips (R-Bergen). “Anyone who is the first to respond to the scene of emergency is susceptible to trauma.”
A few weeks ago, an off-duty Roselle Park police officer got into a car accident and shot himself before first responders could extricate him from the vehicle. From 2016 to 2019, 38 officers in New Jersey died by their own hand – the fourth most in the nation. Firefighters and law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a whitepaper by the Ruderman Family Foundation.
“Our state’s first responders answer the call of duty and are often confronted with life and death situations. What they see and experience on a daily basis can be very disturbing and puts them at a higher risk of taking their own lives,” said DePhillips. “Suicides by first responders often go underreported. We need to have a better understanding of the issue here in New Jersey so that we can properly prevent these tragedies.”
DePhillips’ bill requires the fire chief, chief of a squad or association of first responders to report any incident of suicide by a paid or volunteer firefighter, ambulance or rescue squad member, or any other dispatched emergency personnel to the Department of Health. The report must contain the first responder’s age, salary, length of service, race, gender, veteran status, level of education and any other facts pertaining to the method of suicide.
A survey of more than 4,000 first responders nationwide found that 6.6 percent had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population, according to a 2015 article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
The bill was referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.