KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee State Sen. Paul Bailey and State Rep. Johnny Garrett filed a bill that would provide support and resources for firefighters suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dustin Samples was a firefighter at the Cleveland Fire Department for 21 years and committed suicide after suffering from PTSD. The James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act was named in his honor after lawmakers heard about his story.
Dustin’s wife Jennifer is also a first responder and says their jobs impact them in a way others do not understand.
“We don’t have the typical jobs and the typical experiences that a banker or a baker would have. We can go from a car crash to a murder and then the next case be a regular call,” Jennifer said.
She said that firefighting was her husband’s dream job.
“That was what he always wanted to be, and he worked hard at it, he loved it and was so proud of it,” Jennifer said. “As the years and trauma built up, he never wanted to leave it because that is what he loved, he loved helping people.”
Bailey was able to meet Jennifer and learn about Dustin’s story.
“Our firefighters see the worst of human suffering and tragedy, and encounter scenes that the average person would never see in their entire lifetime,” Bailey said. “So, this repeated exposure to this kind of trauma is the root of the problem for firefighter suicide, and this legislation would work to reduce the stigma.”
According to Bailey, the bill would create resources to help firefighters cope with PTSD.
“This legislation instructs the Department of Commerce and Insurance to establish an administrator, a grant program to mitigate the cost to an employer,” Bailey said.
Jeff Bagwell, with the Rural Metro Fire Department, said PTSD has become an increasing problem over the years as firefighters face more responsibility.
“Now, with the fire department being all-hazards, we go to car wrecks, shootings, medical calls, on top of fires. So, when you start throwing all of that into the mix, every day can be a hard day,” Bagwell said.
Jennifer wants people struggling with PTSD to know that there are resources and people who can help.
“You are not alone, nothing is wrong with you and you need to find some people that care about you and want to help you succeed and get the support you need,” Samples said.
She also helped start a non-profit called the 303 Project, also named after her husband’s badge number.
The bill was filed on Jan. 30. The Senate with a majority of the House has signed on as co-sponsors.