Arizona firefighters use faith to fight mental illness, PTSD

Posted: Updated:
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

One can't imagine the pain of seeing what first responders see when they pull up to a car accident, a drowning or a shooting. That's why a group of firefighters is tapping into their faith to help them cope with the trauma.

"Even though we chose this career, we know that it takes its toll on us," said Surprise Fire Department chaplain Nick Petrucci said.

Petrucci started the Christian-based group he dubbed Koinonia, which is Greek fellowship or joint participation, while serving as a Phoenix firefighter. The group began with a few firefighters meeting in a room in his home. Today, it's grown to 100 members.

"It's just a real comfortable place where people can come, not feel judged, they can be vulnerable, they can say, 'Hey, I had this call and I don't like it,'" said Petrucci.

Monday morning, the men gathered at North Mountain for food, music and prayer.

"We always do a fire department-related devotional where we can relate God's word with what we do in the fire department," Petrucci explained. "Today we're talking about putting on the full armor of God, which is like our turnouts. When we go into a fire, we get turned out, we're ready to go."

"For us, it's an outlet," Phoenix Fire Department Capt. T.J. Gennaro said. "It's like our 911, where we go for help because we're no different than people who use the 911 system. We just have our own system that looks a little different."

Those like Gennaro say the need is great, as many first responders battle with PTSD.

[RELATED: Technology helps trauma survivors accelerate PTSD treatment, recovery]

"The worst sound is a wailing mom on a drowning call. That is something I wish I could take out of my mind," Gennaro said. "But that's going to be with me forever."

According to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, firefighters in the United States are three times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

"We still have financial problems," Gennaro said. "We still have substance abuse issues. We still have life issues."

Petrucci hopes this fellowship gets to the root of first responders' problems before a downward spiral ensues.

[RELATED: Man Therapy connects Arizona men to health services with comedy]

"How I process that stuff, and I how I live through it, and how I raise my family now, it's with a foundation, in this brotherhood, with a foundation in Christ for us," said Petrucci.

For more information on weekly group meetings with Koinonia, go to or check out KoinoniaFD on Facebook.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.