With the start of the 2019 Legislative Session just a week away, legislators are making a final push to get their bills filed.
One of those bills aims to take care of our state’s first responders by making sure their mental health is a priority as they deal with trauma on a daily basis.
“We deal with death and dying almost on a daily basis. At some point that is just going to take its toll on us,” said Paramedic Charles Luera with Bernalillo County Fire Rescue.
Fires, heart attacks, and car crashes are just a few of the calls firefighters respond to on a daily basis, many of which can leave a lasting impact.
“There’s a lot of things that we see that just can’t unsee, and it gets stored in there at times and it will come out eventually,” said Luera.
That’s why Representative Deborah Armstrong and Representative-Elect Micaela Cadena are working on an amendment to add PTSD as a condition to Senate Bill 303, “the Firefighter Occupational Disease Act.”
“There have been more firefighters willing to have courageous conversations about PTSD,” said Cadena.
Senate Bill 303 was introduced about 10 years ago, originally as a Presumptive Causation Bill. That means if there is a first responder, firefighter, or paramedic diagnosed with cancer, it is presumed that their diagnosis is connected to the hazards of their work.
There are 12 health conditions on that list such as brain cancer, esophageal cancer, and kidney cancer.
PTSD is not one of them. Cadena says that needs to change.
“All of these conditions are related to very high levels of stress and the burden will no longer be on the firefighters to prove when the trauma is ensued,” said Cadena.
Cadena says it is required that paid departments conduct medical and physical assessments of their first responders.
Bernalillo County Fire Rescue does this annually.
“Every year we evaluate whether they’re progressing or regressing. Cancer can affect multiple systems. It could be something like this person has become extremely fatigued…They’ve been doing everything normally at the station, but when we come they say, I’ve been extremely fatigued over the last few months and I don’t know why,” said Lt. David Lujan. “Then we start comparing those numbers and see a drastic change where it’s decreased. We can then say, let’s look at this a little further and send you to the doctor and have them evaluate that.”
The department is taking it one step further, offering resources to members who are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, through the Peer Support Program.
Luera says since it started, more members are seeking help, which he says proves PTSD needs to be added to this bill.
“We don’t want there to be another suicide as a result of non-treatment. We want our guys and gals to be taken care of,” said Luera.
Luera, along with members of IAFF Local 244, will head to the Roundhouse in January, as they push to have PTSD added to the bill.
Officials say the bill will be filed and ready to move on January 15.