KY House sends firefighter mental health bill to Senate

Anderson County firefighters practice extrication techniques/Anderson County Fire Department Facebook

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/LRCeNews) – Firefighters are often the first to respond to a variety of emergencies, including medical incidents, car accidents, and others.

Their willingness to put themselves in danger and possibly witness great tragedy can leave long-lasting, negative psychological impacts such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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House Bill 44 passed unanimously on the House floor Thursday. It would allocate funding for full-time and volunteer firefighters experiencing PTSD or post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) to receive proper care from a licensed mental health professional.

Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, said statistics concerning the mental health of firefighters are alarming.

“19% have suicidal thoughts,” she said. “27% have substance abuse issues. 59% have family relationship problems. 65% are haunted by the memories of bad calls.”

The bill would also allow firefighters to undergo crisis intervention training (CIT), said Banta, who is a primary sponsor of the bill.

CIT teaches law enforcement and firefighters how to effectively respond to persons suffering from a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

In return, first responders reduce the risk of injury to themselves, other first responders, and citizens.

Rep. Buddy Wheatley, R-Covington, who is a co-sponsor of HB 44, praised the legislation, saying there are many firefighters across the state who suffer serious consequences related to PTSD.

“This bill gives the opportunity so they don’t have to pay for their own healthcare services related to this issue,” Wheatley said. “It’s not covered currently by workman’s comp.”

HB 44 would allocate $1,250,000 per year to reimburse firefighters for mental health treatment not covered by medical insurance.

Rep. Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, who is also a co-sponsor on the bill, says HB 44 helps reduce the stigma around asking for help.

“I think this one step that we can do to make it OK for people to ask for treatment,” Jenkins said. “… I think this gives us a healthier workforce.”

HB 44 will now go before the full Senate for consideration.