With Suicides Among Firefighters on the Rise, Minnesota Firefighter Tries to Help

( Katherine Johnson - KSTP TV )

A Minnesota firefighter is working to reduce the number of suicides among colleagues.

“I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” said Frazee firefighter Scott Geiselhart in front of a room filled with firefighters from across the northern half of the state.

He’s a firefighter in Frazee, a small town in Becker County with a population of about 1,350 people.

Tuesday night, he traveled to Randall as part of his effort in responding to a crisis that his fellow firefighters don’t usually talk about and, he says, don’t train on, either.

“I started blaming myself for every single accident I went on,” he said.

Geiselhart is telling a story that goes back about a year and a half to the day that he attempted suicide.

“It was a revolver. I put it to my head and I pulled the trigger,” he said. The room fell silent.

“I couldn’t believe… it clicked and it didn’t go off. That gun never ever misfires,” Geiselhart said.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 87 firefighters across the country died in the line of duty in 2015.
114 firefighters committed suicide that year. That’s up from 109 in 2014 and 69 firefighters in 2013. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance started tracking numbers on suicides in 2010.

“There wasn’t any talk (about mental illness) that I remember through my whole career,” said Geiselhart.

Soon after his suicide attempt, Geiselhart learned he’s been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the tragedies and traumas he’s responded to during his 20 year career.

“I got to some scenes where I cut friends out,” he said as he recalled countless extrication calls. “Small town, you cut people out that you know. You cut little kids out.”

Geiselhart is touring departments throughout the state to share his story, his knowledge on PTSD and how he is working to heal.

“I got vocal right away and I can’t shut up about it. I have to bring awareness to it,” he said.

Although he is on the road to recovery, Geiselhart has yet to repair all of the relationships in his life. He says after years of yelling at his family and turning to drugs to mute the pain, his 18-year-old son isn’t yet ready to speak to him.

“I want him to know that I love him and the whole reason I’m doing this is so somebody else’s family doesn’t have to go through this,” he said.

Geiselhart ultimately found help by calling the Share the Load program, run through the National Volunteer Fire Council. He was connected with fellow firefighters and police officers who were able to talk him down and offer resources that turned his life around.

He’s working with Rep. John Pursell (DFL) who tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that would fund mandatory mental health training for firefighters. Geiselhart will continue touring the state and speaking to as many firefighters as possible. He believes that’s the only way for his fellow firefighters to start opening up about mental illness or trauma after responding to a scene. He says had he were approached by a counselor or a therapist in his darkest moments, he doesn’t think he would have responded the way he did when he was connected with those who could relate to his pain.

For more information on the Share the Load program go here.