AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) — The Aurora Fire Department recognized one of their battalion chiefs for her work to provide better mental health assistance within the field. Battalion Chief Wendy Lippmann was given the Firefighter Hero Ward by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Maglite.
Lippmann, a 21-year-veteran is the Aurora Fire Department, was recognized at an awards ceremony Tuesday. She said she and her department as a whole are trying to improve the attention mental health is given in firefighting.
“People think it is great, it is heroic. People love you, so how can it possibly have any negative impact on you?” Lippmann said.
She said most firefighters feel they have to wear the cape of a superhero and cannot have emotions.
“It is an ego thing, too. Nobody wants to say ‘I am hurting inside,'” Lippmann told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “That, coupled with the fact that we work 24 hour shifts, so our families are away from us.”
Aurora Fire responded to more than 55,000 calls in 2018, meaning their firefighters work upwards of 150 calls per day.
“Not all great things happened on all of those calls,” Lippmann said
Lippmann said many calls bring joy to firefighters, including saving lives. However, more than 70% of calls are non-fire related. Those calls often involve deaths, serious injuries, and other traumatizing images.
“We have a picture in our brain of what it looked like, smelled like, felt like. We put it in our slide carousel, and then we turn it and stash it away. Sometimes that slide carousel is full, and that is when we have real issues,” Lippmann said.
Lippmann said the department was working to make mental health a priority, similar to prioritizing physical rehabilitation. With suicide being the number one killer of firefighters, the department is forcing their staff to start talking about their issues
Firefighters are frequently put together to discuss responses. While they are not forced to share, they are made to sit and listen. By doing so, they hope those less vocal about emotions will be more likely to realize others share the same feelings.
The department also releases crews of their shifts after responding to traumatic events.
“This is a need, and this is something that we need to work hard at,” Lippmann said.
Lippmann credited her department for the award, and said it reflected more of the team’s effort than her individual effort.