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Vista fire chief raises awareness on mental health concerns in fire service

VISTA — Vista Fire Chief Jeff Hahn delivered a passionate statement about the correlation between fire service and mental health during the Aug. 21 City Council meeting. During the Vista Fire Department update, Hahn shared that he was already aware of the situation, but had not realized the gravity of it until he acquired the statistics. 

Hahn said the behavioral health issues he was referring to included PTSD, depression and suicide.

“These are issues that have kind of always been in the background but not in the foreground,” he said. “But in the last couple of years, statistics really came up and bit me pretty hard.”

Hahn went to say that many viewed these types of work-related behavioral health issues as stemming from the military — but that isn’t the case. He said those in fire services are facing the same challenges.

“The rates run about 22.8 percent for the military, but fire services are right behind them at a 20 percent rate of occurrence,” Hahn said. “Then the one that obviously set me on my ear was that in 2015 and then again in 2016, suicide was the leading cause of death for firefighters nationwide. So, we have a problem.”

This information triggered Hahn to do something, so he partnered with the VFFA and the city of Vista to address these issues. In July, they hosted a behavioral health Peer Team training opportunity for members of the fire service. Seven members of the Vista Fire Department attended as well as their licensed clinician and the Vista Fire chaplain.

Hahn shared that he pushed this out within the north zone and countywide level to get participation from other fire departments.

“We actually filled that class and filled the second one that’s going to be going on,” he said.

In addition to the training program, Hahn reiterated that they hired an in-house licensed clinician with experience in military PTSD.

“She’s guiding our program and helping our individuals,” Hahn said. “We’re going to be making some big strides to try to address the problem.”