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Local firefighter’s widow mission to save lives, numbers show firefighter suicide rising

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Only on CBS12: They put their lives in jeopardy to keep us all safe, but the stress they take home is killing them.

Numbers show firefighters and EMS suicides are on the rise.

A local widow is on a mission to change that and is taking her fight all the way to our state capital.

It was a phone call that changed Leslie Dangerfield’s life forever.

“He said, just know that I love you, you’re a good mom, and take care of our boys.”

On October 15, 2016, fallen Indian River County Fire Chief David Dangerfield said goodbye to his wife on the phone first, and then on Facebook.

After a 27-year career, Chief Dangerfield wrote in his suicide post that it was due to PTSD on the job. He posted on Facebook:

"PTSD for Firefights is real. If your loved one is experiencing signs get them help quickly. 27 years of death and babies dying in your hands is a memory that you will never get rid off. It haunted me daily until now. My love to my crews. Be safe, take care. I love you all."

“There were stories, one was about a teenager who was attacked by a shark, and he had to carry the teenager’s body across the beach,” explained Leslie. “The one that I remembered the most is one where a little girl died in a car accident, and she was holding a teddy bear. Those were the ones that haunted him.”

The fire chief’s death is why Leslie, along with other surviving parents, wives and siblings of firefighters support a proposed bill up for debate this year in Tallahassee.

Senator Lauren Book’s bill would expand workers’ compensation benefits to cover post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders.

Right now, PTSD is only covered by workers’ comp if they suffer a mental and physical injury that needs treatment.

“We’ve been through a nightmare the last 15 months,” continued Leslie.

Suicide among firefighters outpaces deaths in the line of duty by about 40%. Dangerfield said expanding their benefits could reduce those numbers.

“I hope to help other families so they don’t have to go through what we went through, first responders can retire with dignity,” said Leslie.

Supporters of the proposed bill hope it will be put on the agenda for discussion for the 2018 legislative session next Thursday.

U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) confirmed in 2016, 89 firefighters deaths in the line of duty were recorded, and 130 committed suicide. In 2015, 135 firefighters committed suicide, and 89 lost their lives in the line of duty. The numbers are a bit lower in 2013, 114 suicides and 92 line of duty deaths. But you can clearly see the trend.

Leslie invited CBS12 to a free training opportunity and workshop to educate first responders and their families about PTSD. It’s called “Saving Those Who Save Others.” The training is from January 10th – January 13th.

You need to register in order to attend. If you’re interested, contact Belinda at 561-838-5420, or Stephanie at 561-227-6430.

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Location: Palm Beach Fire Rescue – Station 3. 2185 South Ocean Blvd. Palm Beach, FL 33480.

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