Central Ohio firefighters use peer support to combat PTSD

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — According to advocates, Firefighters often deal with PTSD and don’t ask for help.  

A group of firefighters in Central Ohio is working to change that through peer support.  

“There are some days that punch you right in the gut,” said Columbus Firefighter and peer support mentor Dave Gerold.  

He says over time, those days add up.  “People need to unload and get that stuff out. Like getting the rocks out of your backpack.” 

It’s why a group of people in Central Ohio are offering peer support to help firefighters through hard times.  

“I never thought I would go into a burning structure or help people that were critically ill or sick,” said Norwich Township firefighter Heith Good.  

Yet 23 years later Good is still doing it and at some point, he realized he could do even more simply by listening to his colleagues.  “Just talking to firemen about life. Their life. Stuff that they have seen. Stuff that is trouble to them.” 

How it started is somewhat a mystery. It seemed as if the guys in the firehouse just gravitated to him.  

“I don’t know I really don’t know how that started. I think it’s just natural.”   

Given the gravity of things firefighters were talking to him about he chose to get formal training to become a peer support mentor like Gerold who has had his own battle with PTSD.  

“It took some others around me, my wife, and a few books that I had read to finally go get help so even as a trained peer I was reluctant,” said Gerold.  

He says most firefighters have trouble asking for help. “If the fire is too big, we get more firetrucks. If there are too many patients we ask for medics. I would say, ask for help. We are a team.” 

Right now, peer mentors are spread out evenly across Central Ohio with more plans on the horizon.  

“Bringing more support for our members, developing training for supervisors, recruits.”  

Gerold said it’s in hopes of saving firefighters from suicide which is something he has seen even in his own department. “We lost a member of our community and I don’t ever want to see that again.” 

So, they’ll continue listening and hope more brave men and women speak up.   

“If you don’t feel like yourself anymore than I would encourage you to ask for help like we would at any part of this job.” 

If someone seems like they are having a hard time, Good says it’s important to be intentional, ask them if they are OK, and listen to what they have to say.  

If you don’t feel like yourself anymore it’s important to reach out to a friend or family member. 

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