NH to provide line-of-duty death benefits when first responders die by suicide

Keene Sentinel
Published: 7/19/2022 5:09:05 PM
Modified: 7/19/2022 5:08:39 PM

The suicide of a first responder will be considered a line-of-duty death eligible for associated family benefits under a bill Gov. Chris Sununu recently signed into law.

Traumatic stress faced by law-enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel can put them at increased risk of mental health issues and suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sununu signed House Bill 91 on July 8, and it goes into effect Sept. 6. Sponsored by N.H. Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, it drew bipartisan support.

Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein, an adjunct instructor at the New Hampshire police academy, said that under the bill, the family of a first responder who died by suicide would be eligible for a $100,000 state line-of-duty death benefit.

The measure passed by voice votes in the House and Senate in May after unanimous support at the committee level.

Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera said the measure is an important and overdue acknowledgment that first responders’ work can sometimes contribute to them taking their own lives.

“What we see in this career, the calls that we get, can take a toll on somebody’s mental health and wellness,” he said Monday. “When we go to a death of a child by the hands of a parent, or a pretty nasty accident scene, these things will add up.”

Sometimes a law-enforcement officer will begin to question whether they could have arrived at the scene earlier, or whether there was something else they could have done to prevent a loss of life, he said.

Also, an officer’s work life can take a toll on family life, and this can become another area of stress, Rivera said.

He and Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker said that years ago, first responders were less likely to talk about on-the-job stress or seek help for the problems it can cause.

“You wouldn’t talk about it with peers,” Walker said. “There was an attitude of, ‘Suck it up, Buttercup. You signed up to see death and despair.’ ”

Both men said people who work a long time as a first responder will inevitably know someone who died by suicide or who contemplated it.

Everybody handles stress in a different way, Walker noted.

“The threshold for problems is really personal,” he said. “If you have trouble with an incident, regardless of what the incident is, and you reach out for help, as an industry and a profession we have gotten much better about helping.”

Even in more rural areas, first responders are under significant stress, and may even face the traumatic situation of being called out to help someone they know personally, Walker said.

Firefighters are three times more likely to die by suicide than die on the job, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. They are also at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, regardless of if they are active in the field or retired.

A total of 177 first responders died by suicide last year, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit that tracks such statistics.

■If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or know anyone who is, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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