Firefighters Create Group to Deal with Mental Health on the Job

It’s not always easy to get a firefighter to open up about what they’re feeling.

Some Miami firefighters are trying to change that.

“The problem we run into is how to take the hat off so to speak,” said Kiel Silvia.

Silva has been a firefighter paramedic with the city of Miami for more than a decade.

He has been trained to help others in life-threatening situations, but there’s something he didn’t get training for – his own mental health.

It’s a problem he ran headfirst into three years ago after two of his fellow firefighters committed suicide.

“It hit me personally, they both were friends of mine and at the time, it was very tough to process,” said Silvia.

Picking up a paintbrush and painting was the only way he knew how to deal with what he was feeling at the time.

“I can just let my mind wander,” he said.

But he also took action.

He helped create a group called Headstrong Heroes. It’s a non-profit that helps firefighters like him deal with post-traumatic stress. It’s a group he runs with fellow firefighter Raul Cernuda.

First responders experience a lot of trauma on the job, and many struggle with how to process what they see on a day-to-day basis.

“Some of our members will call us the hug squad, or something like that, because they’re uncomfortable dealing with the emotional aspect of it,” said Cernuda.

As we first reported in February, NBC News surveyed firefighters across North America and found many of them are uncomfortable. Nineteen percent of the 7,000 who responded said they’ve had suicidal thoughts.

“For me, it was the whole reason why I got involved,” said Silvia. “Our motto and our mission statement is when those who serve others find themselves in a dark place, we will be the beacon of light.”

They do peer-to-peer counseling behind closed doors. The survey found more than half who responded admit they’ve been haunted by traumatic situations.

“That’s our whole thing, to get guys to tell their stories and be able to either overcome their denial of what they’re feeling, to get in touch with what they’re feeling, and to see it in a different light.”

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