Tampa firefighter’s suicide may help other first responders

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The suicide of a Tampa firefighter may actually end up helping other first responders. 

A bill by Sen. Lauren Book (D) Broward County to require workers’ compensation to cover treatment for first responders who develop mental health issues due to their jobs, was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.

In November, Target 8 revealed that first responders are on their own dealing with the horrors of accidents, fires and killings.

On Tuesday, a Tampa Bay area family took the story of Tampa firefighter-paramedic Steve LaDue to Tallahassee.

LaDue took his own life in September.

Years of dealing with death and gore took its toll.

Post-traumatic stress compounded by heavy drinking led to a life that spiraled out of control.

“The numbers are staggering,” said Megan Vila, LaDue’s sister. “I mean my brother is definitely not the first firefighter to kill himself and unfortunately he probably will not be the last.”

In Tallahassee, Megan, members of her family and a contingent of Tampa firefighters stood in support of changing workers’ compensation laws to cover mental health issues that develop due to their jobs.

Megan thinks that might have helped her brother.

“The research is out there, firefighters are three times more likely to die by suicide than they are in the line of duty,” Megan told members of the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.

Firefighter Josh Vanderbilt told lawmakers about the most horrific call he ever ran on. It was a vehicle versus pedestrian.

“Got out of the truck, cleared the people out of the way, looked down, and it was my little brother,” Vanderbilt recalled. He says he was forcibly removed from the scene by officers and hospitalized. His brother died later that day.

Firefighter Kevin Rouse’s voice cracked as he told lawmakers no one signs up for what they actually experience.

“You watch a family of four burn inside a car and you can’t get them out in time,” he said.

Then the families told their horror stories.

“Thirteen months ago, David took his own life because he could no longer live with the nightmares he experienced in his career,” said Leslie Dangerfield, the wife of a firefighter.

She wasn’t alone.

“On March 2, 2016, Rick walked into our bedroom, took out his gun and shot himself in front of me,” explained Diana Sandell, the wife of another firefighter who took his life.

The committee listened. It passed the bill unanimously.

A companion bill, introduced by Rep. Matt Willhite (D) Palm Beach, is in the House.

An FSU study revealed that 47 percent of firefighters surveyed have had suicidal thoughts.

If you have something that you think should be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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