Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law Assembly Bill 1116, which gives firefighters across California greater access to mental health programs.
AB 1116, also called the California Firefighter Peer Support and Crisis Referral Services Act, specifically gives firefighters access to peer groups for support and adds post-traumatic stress to the list of injuries for workers compensation. Peer support for firefighters will include emergency service personnel, hospital staff, clergy, and educators who have completed a peer support training course.
Similar support networks for firefighters exist in several other states and have shown to reduce emotional stress and fatigue in firefighters. Higher general health for all professions has also been found in similar programs.
Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D-Concord) authored the bill, largely because of his service as a Critical Response chaplain and having seen the problems firefighters face firsthand. In previous statements he stated frustration in not seeing programs for firefighters to help deal with building mental stress caused by wildfires and the subsequent self-harm and suicides it could have prevented.
“In 2017 when our state experienced some of the deadliest wildfires in its history, more California firefighters died by suicide than in the line of duty. Today we offer a life-line to these brave women and men who might otherwise suffer in silence,” said Assemblyman Grayson. “I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 1116 into law and joining me in prioritizing the mental health of our first responders.”
Governor Newsom, on signing the bill, shared the same sentiment.
“The job of firefighters and first responders can be very rewarding, but at the same time, extremely unpredictable,” stated Governor Newsom. “They can experience high-stress situations and traumatic incidents that can push them to the limit both physically and mentally, and we need to recognize and take those challenges head on. These bills are meant to ensure they have access to resources and help in their time of need, in the same way they assist their communities when they need them most.”
Firefighters have responded positively to the bills’ passage.
“We all know someone who is going through something or had PTSD over a bad fire,” said Don Duke, a firefighter in San Bernardino County. “Every one of us remembers seeing our first dead body in a fire.
This new law is important. Many of us aren’t too proud to talk it over with someone, but many of us have a hard time finding the right person about it. If this law came sooner it could have helped a lot of good men.”
AB 1116 had universal support throughout the entire session and was one of the few bills to not receive a ‘no’ vote.
“This can only save more lives,” said Duke. “We need to remember that firemen out there need to be rescued sometimes too.”