Local first responder: ‘I felt the only way out was to kill myself’

For most of us, the worst thing that happens at work is our boss gets angry or we lose a client. But for our first responders, work means a daily encounter with danger and death. Ben Norrod's 13 years as a Jefferson Township Firefighter had a heartbreaking start.

"Three months into my career, I had my first full (cardiac) arrest and it was a two-year old child," said Norrod. "We got back to the station and I just sat here and cried and I almost didn't want to do it anymore."

Norrod said the emergency calls never got easier. Then four years ago, he lost another patient, a man who was having trouble breathing.

"He coded. I told him he was going to be alright. I told his wife that he was going to be alright and he never recovered," said Norrod. "I remember getting to the hospital, turning the patient over to the doctors and just sitting in the ambulance crying...blaming myself that I killed this guy. Even though I didn't, I blamed myself."

Last year, Ben said he shut down emotionally. Then, an important relationship ended.

"The pain, it was overwhelming. I felt the only way out was to kill myself," Norrod said.

He is not alone. Suicide rates among first responders in the U.S. are soaring. The latest statistics show 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide last year. That is compared to 93 firefighters and 129 police officer line of duty deaths.

"if it takes one life, it's a problem," said Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer.

Like many full-time organizations, his deputies have access to mental health professionals. However, many first responders argue that more help is needed especially for small police and fire departments with part-timers and volunteers.

"A lot of times its kept hush-hush in departments and it's almost swept under the rug," said Nick Magoteaux, a firefighter and founder of "Brothers Helping Brothers." The non-profit organization is focusing on getting mental health help for firefighters, EMT's and paramedics working in small departments around the country.

"It's difficult when you're the one that's supposed to look tough and you look vulnerable,"said Magoteaux.

Over time, exposure to stress can take a toll on the mental and physical health of first responders. In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) results in symptoms such as:

  • Flashbacks, nightmares, and recurring thoughts
  • Emotional numbness
  • Extreme worry, guilt, anger or hopelessness
  • Avoidance of people, places or things that are reminders of the trauma
  • A loss of interest in things that once gave pleasure
  • Feeling anxious, on edge or jumpy, and startling easily
  • Sleep issues
  • Problems with alcohol, drugs or food

Magoteaux said the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance is looking at the latest statisticsand the conversation is starting.

"We're not super heroes," said Ben Norrod. " I was clinically diagnosed with major depression and Post Traumatic Stress."

Ben said he spent five days in the hospital on suicide watch. After treatment and counseling, he now has control over his emotions and he still loves being a firefighter. He is urging other first responders to speak up if they are suffering.

"Even if this just reaches out and touches one person to get help, that's why I'm doing this," Norrod said.

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