KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that aims to support firefighters who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The bill establishes a grant program to mitigate the cost to employers providing workers’ compensation for firefighters with PTSD diagnoses. Employers will be required to provide mental health resiliency training as part of their regular education in order to qualify for the grant.
The bill was named after James “Dustin” Samples. Samples was a firefighter who worked for the Cleveland Fire Department for 21 years. Samples, who was suffering from PTSD, died by suicide.
Kingsport Fire Department Captain Jeremy Pitts was one of several fire officials in the region that traveled to Nashville to lobby for this legislation. He said that this bill was needed for firefighters around the state.
“It’s going to allow local governments and departments to come up with training and education plans that bring out awareness,” Pitts said.
Pitts told News Channel 11 just how difficult the job can be. At a moment’s notice, firefighters can be called to fires or car crashes, without knowing just how bad the scene could be. He said that this can be tough mentally.
“We work and live in the community that we serve,” Pitts said. “We could go and it’d be one of our family members, our neighbors or our relatives that we see that has passed.”
The 25-year firefighting veteran said that he’s known several firefighters who have dealt with PTSD. Pitts said that PTSD symptoms can flare up at any moment while on the job.
Any little detail about a bad experience can come to mind while fighting fires.
“You remember the last call that you had where you weren’t able to save that young child or that family member,” Pitts said.
Pitts has traveled to Nashville for other legislation regarding firefighters. He said that he’ll continue to fight for firefighters.
“We support the health and safety of all professional firefighters in the state of Tennessee,” Pitts said.