WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) announced their introduction of the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, bipartisan legislation that would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect data on first responder suicides and help determine best practices for identifying and treating post-traumatic stress and combating suicide among firefighters and other first responders. The bill also establishes a grant program for peer-to-peer counseling programs to address mental health challenges for first responders. Bipartisan companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last year by Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and has over 70 bipartisan co-sponsors.
“Our nation’s firefighters and emergency medical responders are heroes who routinely witness scenes of catastrophic damage, severe injuries, and tragic loss of life, which can lead to psychological stress, poor mental health, and even suicide,” said Senator Rosen. “We must do more to ensure our first responders have the counseling, mental health care, and support services they need. I will continue working on commonsense, bipartisan legislation that supports the health and well-being of our nation’s first responders in Nevada and across our country.”
“Nebraska’s firefighters and emergency medical personnel are heroes who keep our families and communities safe,” said Senator Fischer. “Tragically, many first responders suffer silently from mental health challenges and we owe it to these brave men and women to help keep them safe, too. I am proud to join Senator Rosen in introducing the bipartisan HERO Act, which takes critical steps to expand mental health infrastructure and prevent suicide by identifying risk factors, increasing the number of peer counselors, and more effectively treating posttraumatic stress among first responders.”
“Our first responders are our heroes – they put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve our communities. But too often, they do not receive the help and care necessary to address their mental health, including post-traumatic stress,” said Rep. Bera. “The HERO act will give first responders access to more resources, more options for counseling, and encourage best practices to reduce suicide risk. I’m proud that the Senate is taking up this important piece of legislation. We must do everything in our power to get our first responders the help they deserve.”
“The IAFC thanks Senators Rosen and Fischer for developing resources to assist first responders struggling with behavioral and mental health conditions. Firefighters and EMS personnel often perform dangerous work in hazardous environments. It is imperative that they have the resources, like peer counseling programs, to identify their colleagues in need and help them receive treatment. The IAFC urges Congress to pass the HERO Act and protect first responders’ health and safety,” said Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board.
“Firefighters and emergency medical professionals are exposed to traumatic situations every day as they work to protect their communities, leading a significant number to struggle with post-traumatic stress and other behavioral health challenges and co-occurring disorders. The HERO Act will help provide the necessary tools and needed resources to assist with recognition and treatment of post-traumatic stress among emergency responders,” said Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “It will also help develop peer counselors in fire departments across the nation. On behalf of the nation’s 320,000 professional fire fighters and emergency medical responders, I thank Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) for their leadership on this important issue.”
“I’d like to thank Senators Rosen and Fischer for introducing the HERO Act to assist emergency responders and public safety agencies dealing with behavioral health issues,” said NVFC Chair Steve Hirsch. “For too long the challenges facing our nation’s firefighters and EMS personnel associated with behavioral health have been underappreciated. Passage of the HERO Act will focus much-needed attention and resources on helping to address this critical problem.”
“Having served over 30 years in the fire service, I can speak first-hand to the challenges and toll that firefighters face while serving our communities,” said Angelo Aragon, President of Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada. “This bill will help fire fighters and emergency medical professionals with the tools and resources to provide critical mental health care to the women and men who keep our communities safe. I look forward to working with Senator Rosen to support our heroes.”
BACKGROUND: According to research by the Ruderman Family Foundation, more firefighters die from suicide than in the line of duty.
The bipartisan HERO Act responds to reports that first responders may be at higher risk for suicide and mental illness than other professions by providing for the study and treatment of the mental health challenges that first responders face. Specifically, the bill:
• Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect data and report to Congress every year on first responder suicide rates;
• Requires HHS to identify risk factors and possible interventions and recommended interventions for further study;
• Establishes grants for peer-to-peer counseling for fire departments and emergency medical services agencies;
• Requires HHS to develop and distribute best practices on the prevention and treatment of post-traumatic stress among first responders.
The HERO Act has been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Volunteer Fire Council and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.