LEVANT (NEWS CENTER Maine) — The suicide of firefighter Isaac Greenlaw shocked the men and women of Levant Fire and Rescue; one of a growing number of departments to see suicide in their ranks.
“He was this department,” Lt. Jon Hicks said.
Greenlaw, 41, was first reported missing by friends and family days before his body was found in early September.
NEWS CENTER Maine spoke to members of his volunteer department just weeks after his death, remembering him as someone who brought life to their team and was always willing to help.
"It's been very difficult for all of us,” Chaplain Spike Brimmer said.
A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found the number of firefighter dying by suicide nationwide outnumbers all line of duty deaths.
93 firefighters died on the front lines in 2017, according to the study. 103 firefighters took their own lives.
Experts believe the number of suicides could actually be significantly larger due to a lack of reporting.
"We wear that cape. We're supposed to be tough on the outside, but on the inside people don't expect us to fall or falter,” Levant Chief Eric Strout said.
Strout and others said Maine has to do more to help combat mental health issues that arise among first responders given the trauma they experience on a regular basis.
Lawmakers passed a bill to ensure Workers Comp covers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in first responders and emergency personnel, but advocates say that's only a start.
"We don't believe that Maine has done enough,’ Chief of Stamford Fire Dept. and a member of the Maine Fire Chief’s Association Steve Benotti said.
Bennotti serves on a committee focused on health and safety of firefighters statewide. He said Maine has unique challenges when it comes to resources for the brave men and women who risk their lives every day.
"Maine is so big and we have so many small departments, that it's all they can do to get a truck out the door,” Benotti said.
Another challenge: Maine fire departments are having a tough time recruiting and retaining personnel. Benotti said that is often because of mental health concerns.
Mental health experts say the support often starts with education, providing people with the skills they need to identify and discuss their challenges.
"It takes some time and as a society that has so much stigma where someone waits ten years on average before they seek help for a mental health concern, we all have a role in changing that,” Jenna Mehnert with Maine’s National Alliance on Mental Illness said.
Greenlaw’s department said they are having more open discussions moving forward.
"If a firefighter dies in the line of duty, it's all over the news they get buried with honors. If a firefighter commits suicide because of the stresses that they've gone through on the job, families tend to want to hide that."
Most mental health policies are specific to individual departments. Many large departments have procedures in place to debrief firefighters immediately following tough calls, but Chief Strout said that is not enough.
"I think it is a huge issue,” Strout said. “We've got to break down those walls."