The Fire Fighters Charity has launched a 24/7 Crisis Line with the aim of reducing deaths by suicide in the fire service. Here, you can hear from some of those who’ve previously been impacted by suicide – showing exactly why it’s such a vital service.
Suicide has no ‘type’ and can impact countless people. The chances are, you or someone you know has been impacted by suicide at some point in your life. In response to this tragic reality, The Fire Fighters Charity has launched a 24/7 Crisis Line, with the aim of reducing the number of deaths by suicide across the UK’s fire services community.
Support from trained clinicians
The new Crisis Line – 0300 373 0896 – is confidential and run by independent, specially trained clinicians with experience of working with emergency service personnel. It is available to any past or present members of fire service personnel having thoughts of suicide.
It was launched at this year’s Emergency Services Mental Health Symposium, where it was supported by The Prince of Wales in a video message. His Royal Highness recognised the crisis line and the tireless work of all emergency responders. He also shared his thanks for the network of charities and services who work to support our emergency responder community.
As part of its work ahead of the launch, the charity spoke to several members of past and present fire and rescue service personnel who have lost friends or family members to suicide, or who have dealt with tragedies through their work.
One of them, Robyn Richardson, shared how she’s often exposed to very traumatic calls in her role as a Watch Manager in Control. She said, “A lot of people see Control as a hub for reassurance and support, so often call us in those times of crisis. To have The Fire Fighters Charity to signpost them to is going to be amazing, and a great support for us. I think the pressures we’re under in Control go unnoticed sometimes, but actually hearing people in distress on the other end of the phone can be just – if not more – distressing as seeing it in person.”
Robyn has also had members of her family die by suicide, so our new Crisis Line is a cause close to her heart. She hopes, by sharing her experiences, she’ll encourage others to reach out for help – whether it’s for support with their overall health and wellbeing, or importantly, if they’re at a point of crisis.
“I think this Crisis Line is incredibly vital for the fire service to have access to,” she adds. “The mental health sector is stretched so much now. For the charity to launch this is going to be amazing and such a support for so many.”
Twiggy shares his experience
Meanwhile, Twiggy Lake, a retired on-call firefighter, described how he’d lost colleagues to suicide – one of whom he was called out to.
“Our calls could be quite horrific at times, as we covered such a large area, and we had one on a Saturday afternoon to someone who’d taken their own life… I can only talk about this now since I’ve had psychological support myself.”
“My Group Manager had heard me booking out to the address and rushed in to tell me to keep my crew on the pump, I said, ‘what’s the matter’ and he said, ‘it’s one of your blokes’.
“We’d been surprised not to have seen him on station that day when the bells went off, but of course it was him we were called out to. He was really liked by all the crew; I’d worked with him for 10 or 15 years.”
The Fire Fighters Charity’s Crisis Line has been funded in its first year by the Blue Light Card Foundation and for two further years by the National Fire Chiefs Council – and it follows the publication of a suite of online suicide prevention and postvention resources by the Charity in September, which can be found at www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/safeplace.
Specialist, evidence-based resources
Ahead of this important launch, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) carried out research into the health and wellbeing of the UK fire sector, which was commissioned jointly by The Fire Fighters Charity and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
The detailed study of over 3,000 UK fire and rescue service personnel found that mental wellbeing across the UK’s fire and rescue services is being impacted by issues such as sleep disruption, occupational stress, burnout, anxiety and depression.
Dr Jill Tolfrey, Chief Executive of The Fire Fighters Charity, said of the new 24/7 Crisis Line: “Every suicide is a tragedy and by launching our Crisis Line, we can offer specialised support to our beneficiaries. Whatever the time of day, there will be someone on the end of the phone who understands the unique pressures facing those who work in the emergency services, and who can offer the vital support that’s needed in that moment and thereafter, through immediate and ongoing support.
Partnering for success
“I am delighted that we are working in partnership with The Blue Light Card Foundation and the NFCC, together with the invaluable support of The Ambulance Staff Charity (TASC) – whose own crisis line has saved lives among ambulance service staff. This collaboration across the blue light sector, and with support from Nottingham Trent University, demonstrates a real commitment to tackling the issue of suicide among emergency services personnel, and we are proud to offer present and past fire service personnel a safe and confidential place to call when they need it most.”
Sharon Bailey, the Charity’s Director of Beneficiary Services added, “Over the last three years alone, we’ve been made aware of at least 20 deaths by suicide and supported many of the families and colleagues of those who have taken their own lives. Sadly, we suspect the number is much higher than this.
“We hope that, through the launch of this important work, every member of our fire services community now has access to specialist, evidence-based resources, if they’re worried about themselves or someone else, and a dedicated 24/7 Crisis Line if they’re having suicidal thoughts.”
Celebrating 80 years
This is the final article in this six-part series that celebrates 80 years of The Fire Fighters Charity. The year has been filled with activity and reflection but also a recognition of how important our work continues to be and how grateful we are for the help of all our supporters.