'We're developing skills': Raleigh fire department hires psychologist for mental health support

Akilah Davis Image
Saturday, December 17, 2022
Raleigh FD hires psychologist to support firefighters mental health
The Raleigh Fire Department is one of the first in the state to hire a full time psychologist

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Raleigh Fire Department is one of the first in the state to hire a full-time psychologist. Dr. Don Crohan has only been on staff for five weeks and already he's busy.

He comes to the department with more than 35 years of experience.

"Compartmentalization carried to the extreme becomes problematic," said Crohan. "We're looking at developing good skills to compartmentalize for the moment so you can focus on the job at hand, but then having the resources to unpack it and put it away where it needs to be."

It's something Wendell resident Blaise Harris,42, understands. He's a former Raleigh firefighter and still recalls one of the worst days of his career.

"I had three codes on one shift and I lost all three of those people. Two of those people were talking to me before they coded," said Harris. "This happened in 2012, but I'm still thinking about it. It goes to show how that trauma can last and imprint on your brain if you never really process it."

Harris now works as a mental health counselor and follows his passion to help others. He understands the need for mental health support.

"Coming from my past I witnessed five firefighter suicides in five years," said Raleigh Fire Chief Herbert Griffin.

According the CDC, first responders may be at elevated risk for suicide because of the environments they work in. In fact, law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, but often times these deaths are underreported.

The fire department is taking intentional steps to ensure privacy and deter criticism.

"Dr. Crohan's office is away from our building. He has a secluded office where members can seek help," said Chief Griffin.

Officials hope this becomes a network of support. For the more than 600 firefighters on staff this resource is voluntary. It is available to current firefighters and those who are retired.

"The things we deal with on a regular basis. We don't have to keep it to ourselves. We don't have to bottle it up," said Harris.