Albuquerque Fire Rescue hires first behavioral health director in department history

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the first time in its history, Albuquerque Fire Rescue now has a behavioral health director.

AFR Behavioral Health Director Maia Dalton-Theodore will be tasked with supporting the mental health needs of the department’s firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.

"I really look forward to continuing the ongoing mission of normalizing the ability for people to ask for help and reducing the stigma, and also to continue the work around behavioral health for this department,” she said.

AFR Deputy Chief Sean Frazier said being in this line of work can take a big toll on a firefighter’s mental health.

"If you can just picture the absolute worse of humanity, or imagine the absolute worse of humanity that what our men and women are exposed to on a daily basis. So you have the one time trauma from going and seeing a horrific scene, but you also have the chronic cumulative trauma that just builds up after seeing that over and over and over again,” he said.

Frazier said firefighters across the country are facing a mental health crisis, and that more are dying by suicide than in the line of duty.

"And unfortunately AFR has not been immune to this. Two years ago we tragically lost one of our own members to suicide and his name was Andres Chavez. And we honor his memory today and we continue to mourn him to this day,” Frazier said.

Luckily, Frazier said, the stigma around asking for help has slowly started to go away.

"So now to see that changing and let our men and women know that if you are struggling, if you did have a hard time with that call, either we can help you or we can get someone that can help you and it’s huge— it’s just huge for our people,” he said.