The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1646, the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act by voice vote. Introduced in 2019 by Representative Ami Bera (D-CA), this high-priority legislation for the IAFF addresses the real need for increased mental health resources within the fire service.

“This IAFF is committed to preventing the profound pain and shock that comes from losing a fellow IAFF brother or sister, and we will do all we can to make sure no one misses the signs of a fire fighter battling with a mental health condition,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “Our men and women face some of the harshest work environments imaginable and, coupled with the toll this pandemic takes on first responders and their families, it becomes obvious how necessary it is for the HERO Act to become law.”

The HERO Act bolsters our commitment to addressing fire fighter mental health wellness in four crucial ways. First, as the chief component of the HERO Act, the legislation establishes a new grant program to train fire fighters to serve as peer counselors. Second, it directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop new guidance to educate fire fighters on identifying and preventing post-traumatic stress disorders.

Third, the HERO Act directs the CDC to develop research and educational material on the culture within fire departments so that evidence-based therapies can be developed. These new resources will support mental health professionals as they deploy to treat fire fighters coping with psychological issues common to the profession. Finally, the bill will create a database at the CDC to compile statistics on the incidence of suicides among public safety officers. This crucial aspect will provide researchers and policymakers data needed to better comprehend the scope of suicide in the fire service community and find best practices to reduce incidents.

We take a giant step in the right direction with the passage of HR 1646, but the fight is not finished as our attention becomes focused on the Senate where Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), earlier in 2019 introduced her own version of the HERO Act, S 3255.