Finding new ways to ­support first responders

Recently, I joined Gov. Gavin Newsom, fellow legislators and first responders and their loved ones to memorialize California peace officers who lost their lives in the line of duty this past year.

The stories of these officers are ones of bravery and tragedy and are wholly deserving of our recognition. However, there are many more deaths of first responders that are too often left out of the conversation.

For more than 10 years, I have served as Concord Police Department’s critical response chaplain and assist officers and victims after they experience a distressing event. In this role, I have witnessed the intense physical and mental pressure that officers endure.

When a department loses an officer, their colleagues, and the officer’s loved ones, bear the weight of the death. Trauma of this kind breeds loneliness and a feeling that their pain can only be understood by someone else who wears a badge.

While there are supportive services, like chaplains and counselors, available to help peace officers and firefighters, first responders are often reluctant to utilize them due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, the fear of adverse job impacts and the perception among emergency personnel that they must show no signs of weakness. The result is that too many of these brave women and men end up suffering in silence.

In recent years, more peace officers and firefighters have died by suicide than have died in the line of duty. One half of law enforcement officers have reported knowing an officer who committed suicide, and a NBC-Bay Area survey found that nearly one in six firefighters has considered suicide.

When untreated, the psychological and emotional stress first responders endure can manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, heart disease and depression.

In response to these tragic statistics, I have authored two bills, AB1116 and AB1117, to provide additional, more accessible mental health services to first responders by requiring that the respective governing bodies of the California firefighters and peace officers develop Peer Support and Crisis Referral Services Pilot Programs. These programs will build off of the informal social support that many first responders are already receiving from each other, providing them with training and requiring oversight by a licensed clinical professional to guarantee a high standard of care.

By providing access to qualified, confidential support services, we can ensure our first responders are not afraid to seek help and, I hope, help save lives.

Last year, I authored similar legislation that passed both houses of the Legislature but ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In the days between the bill being delivered to the governor’s desk and the veto message being issued, at least two more firefighters had taken their lives.

This year, I am fighting for a different outcome and sending a message to all first responders that their mental health and well-being is a priority. If you would like to support my efforts, please call my Concord office.

Reach Assemblyman Tim Grayson at (925) 521-1511. Visit or write the district office 2151 Salvio Street, Suite P, Concord, CA 94520