PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Firefighters run toward danger when others run from it. They are there to help people in the worst of times, but sometimes they need help, too.

From on-the-job injuries to years of dealing with unimaginable tragedies, the Phoenix Fire Department, along with the local and national fire unions, has seen a spike in post-traumatic stress, suicides and opioid addiction among firefighters.

But now they've developed cutting-edge ways to get these heroes the help they need and deserve.

When the emergency alarm sounds, they respond -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.

“We're problem solvers, I mean we run into burning buildings when they're on fire, so people think, and we think, we're invincible," Phoenix Fire Capt. Ray Maione said. "And sometimes it just builds up."

Maione is also the vice president of member services for the United Phoenix Firefighters, Local 493.

Every day, he and his brethren are ready to risk their lives to save ours.

“We're willing to help anyone at the drop of a hat, but it's really hard to help ourselves,” Firefighter Tyler Ramsey said.

He understands that sometimes heroes need help, too.

“We started to notice a big increase in suicides, a big increase in opioid addiction,” Maione said.

On-the-job injuries -- an occupational hazard -- are often where problems start.

“You get a prescription for an opiate or a pain medication, and at the start it's need-based,” said Ramsey.

These heroes often struggle in silence, which can quickly turn to crises.

“Once it gets a hold of you, you use that as a crutch,” Ramsey said.

[OPIOID CRISIS: Phoenix clergy, faith leaders learn to administer Narcan]

He knows of what he speaks. It was a back injury that started Ramsey's dark downward spiral after being prescribed pain medication.

“I guess it gives you a false sense of security, almost, that it's prescribed by a medical professional," he said. "But being a fireman, I thought, 'Oh I can control this. I don't need to ask for help. I can manage this.'”

But before he knew it, he says it began to manage him.

“It's the last thing you think about before you close your eyes at night and the first thing when you open your eyes in the morning, which is a pretty terrible place to be,” he explained.

Ramsey was at the point of losing it all, possibly even his life.

“That same day I made the phone call, I was checked into rehab by these guys, by member services from the Phoenix Fire Department,” said Ramsey.

“When a firefighter reaches out I know they've already exhausted every option they have and they're in crisis,” Maione said.

That's why the Phoenix Fire Department and local firefighter unions are responding.

Firefighter recovery center

The Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery just opened last year in Maryland.

The United Phoenix Firefighters, Local 493 was instrumental in its development. The facility sits on a 15-acre campus and is designed much like a firehouse.

“It's really a state-of-the-art facility for our membership,” Maione said. “To see it come to fruition is really pretty impressive; a lot of work went into this.”

Ramsey got help before the center opened but credits the Phoenix Fire Department's union for making sure he got the proper treatment and a new chance at life. He believes the facility can give others that same opportunity.

“I'm happy, upright, breathing and living a normal life again," Ramsey said. "I feel like I've been afforded a second chance.”

There are plans in the works to perhaps build another facility on the West Coast.

If you're a firefighter in need of help, please reach out to Local 493, Firestrong or the IAFF Center for Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery.

IAFF Firefighter union

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


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