KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The James “Dustin” Samples Act was passed by the general assembly Friday, named after the firefighter who committed suicide in 2020.

The bill will provide support and resources for firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill was named after Dustin Samples, a firefighter who worked for the Cleveland Fire Department for 21 years.

Dustin Samples was suffering from PTSD.

Dustin Samples’ wife, Jennifer Samples, said the act honors her husband by helping firefighters cope with the same struggles he experienced.

“I think it sends a big message saying that you know, the state, the politicians, the whole state in general, understands the dangers of firefighting is not just the physical dangers they face in the street of burns and stress that injures the body, but the toll is even heavier on the mind,” Jennifer Samples said.

The bill establishes a grant program to mitigate the cost to an employer providing worker’s compensation for firefighters diagnosed with PTSD. Larry McAfee Jr. is the president of the Knoxville Firefighters Association (KFFA) and served as an advocate to state legislators in the process of passing the bill.

“PTSD is a prevalent issue in fire services, hopefully, this bill will help eliminate the negative stigma associated with it,” McAfee said. “We are heroes and it’s kind of hard for us to seek help sometimes so hopefully this is the first step in helping us realize that we’re human too and we can seek help from professionals.”

Chris Hinkle is the vice president of KFFA and served on their state board for the bill.

“Firefighters used to just be firefighters, now we’re EMTs, paramedics, EMS workers, everything and it just adds up seeing that bad stuff over the years,” Hinkle said.

He said these additions to firefighters’ responsibilities raise the number of traumatic calls they go on.

“A trigger for PTSD for myself might be something that’s completely different for you, but most of the time if you see something that has affected somebody, a first responder, something that has to do with a child, another fellow first responder, seeing their own family member in a crisis, something like that,” Hinkle said.

Jennifer Samples envisions a better future for firefighters with the passing of the bill.

“I’m anxious and eager to see you know, just as we’ve been doing for the past couple years, watching the stigma break apart, watching firefighters boldly come forward to tell their stories,” she said.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey and Representative Johnny Garrett. In order to qualify for the grant created by the bill, employers must provide mental health resiliency training as part of their continuing education program.