The Dallas City Council has approved a plan to provide professional fire fighters – and other city employees — paid time off to help cope with mental stress on the job. The new mental health leave provision was approved unanimously following a string of fire fighter suicides and after the city had approved mental leave for police officers.
Under the new city ordinance, fire fighters will be allowed to take 60 hours leave from work for mental health reasons. To earn the leave, a fire fighter must request it, and the request must be tied to a particular on-the-job incident. The employer would then provide the fire fighter with a professional clinician to assess the situation and approve the leave.
Dallas Local 58 President Jim McDade says he approached city officials after the city approved mental health leave for police officers, who sought the provision amid department-wide stress and public scrutiny over the issue of police brutality.
President McDade notes that six Dallas fire fighters have committed suicide in the last 10 years, including Captain John “Kenny” Crutcher, who also was a member of Dallas Local 58.
Crutcher was a 45-year-old husband and father of a five-year-old at the time of his death. One city councilmember, during a hearing considering the mental health leave proposal, read aloud a letter from Crutcher’s widow in which she described how hard he tried to shield her from the on-the-job horrors that continued to haunt him.
President McDade says fire fighters have continued to perform their already-stressful jobs with the added challenge of COVID-19. “Fire fighters have not had the option to telecommute during this pandemic, and we know many of them are experiencing stress,” he says. “We just want fire fighters to know this leave is an option for them and that it is okay to talk about their issues.”
McDade had known Crutcher since the two of them were rookies. Together, they used to lead an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year, McDade will carry Crutcher’s helmet along the parade route.