Detroit Fire Department review highlights need for more mental health, substance use resources

The city of Detroit will provide more resources to its fire department employees after an audit revealed the extensive stress and trauma they are under.

The review into the Detroit Fire Department started earlier this year after two employees were involved in on-duty alcohol-related crashes.

More: Detroit firefighters under investigation for alleged drunk driving rig crash after party

Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett led the review that included speaking with 225 employees, both firefighters and EMS workers, from five firehouses. They were asked questions that helped better understand the mental and emotional toll they are under.

Fire personnel are at an increased risk for depression, PTSD, and suicide. However, the review questions found that many of them did not know about resources available to help them.

The review suggested the department have a more robust peer-to-peer counseling program that is staffed at all times by no fewer than four counselors who are members of the department, as well as changes to leave policy to allow department members to access substance abuse treatment.

Related: Retired Detroit firefighter says drinking problems have plagued department for years

Based on the findings, Mallett will study a Boston program to develop a program that better supports Detroit's firefighters and EMS workers. He expects to have an implementation plan developed within the next 60 days and for the program to be in place later this summer.

"What we learned from this process is that many of our firefighters and medics are struggling to cope with the trauma and stress they face every day and that we, as a city and a department, have not done enough to support them," Mallett said. "Instead of having a robust peer support program to turn to, some turned to alcohol or other inappropriate behavior as a coping mechanism. It’s not right that we ask these men and women to be there for us during our time of crisis and we haven’t been there for them during theirs."

About 220 firefighters and paramedics were interviewed, asked about everything from mental health to drug and alcohol use on the job.  

"Firefighters and the EMS techs are reporting there is not widespread drinking and there is not drug use of any kind," he said.  

Specifically, 60-percent of DFD employees questioned reported not seeing any drinking or alcohol abuse. Of the 40-percent that did, qualified their answer by saying it happened in the past.  

Mallet suggesting post-traumatic stress syndrome from the job is a contributor to substance use.  

"Now you have firefighters that on a regular basis are doing medical runs which are a different emotional intensity than fighting a fire," Mallett said. "Nothing can prepare you for coming upon a car accident where a child has been killed."  

Moving forward - the mayor’s office wants to increase funding for counseling services. Right now, the city spends about $80,000 on peer counseling for the department compared to a city like Boston, spending $700,000.

"Instead of the one peer counselor we have for over 1,000 people there will be at least four," Mallett said.  

More than half of those questioned said they didn’t even know the department had those kinds of mental health support services.  

"We are going to put together a sustainable, stand-alone program so there is always support for our men and women," said Eric Jones, Detroit fire commissioner.  

Read the full audit below: