‘Our department is in pain’: Fire chief addresses mental health issues following firefighter deaths
OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - Marion County Fire Chief James Banta is promising to make changes to better respond to mental health struggles in the department after two firefighters died in less than a month.
The chief released a video message to the department and residents of Marion County following the deaths of MCFR firefighter paramedics Allen Singleton and Tripp Wooten. Singleton died on Jan. 28 and Wooten died on Jan. 9. Both left behind wives and children.
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In the video, Banta acknowledges the concerns people in the department and the community have raised regarding how low pay and mandatory overtime impacts the mental health of firefighters.
“If the answer was as simple as eliminating mandatory overtime, I would shut trucks down immediately, but I can tell you it goes way deeper than that,” Banta said. “We must address these factors and identify members of our team that are suffering or in crisis. I need you to be my eyes and ears.”
RELATED: Marion County Commissioners review mental health assistance for firefighters
The chief has requested the Florida Fire Chiefs Association send their Mental Health Strike Team to the department. He is also working out plans to bring the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) mental health teams to the department. Banta says any recommendations made to the department will be considered.
A viewing for Singleton will be held on Saturday at 9 a.m. for the family. The funeral will be open to the public at Church at the Springs, 5424 S.E. 58th Ave. Ocala. The funeral will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at the church without a graveside service.
Allen was a 6-year veteran firefighter who joined the ranks of Marion County Fire Rescue in 2016. Before that, he was a member of the 2016 MCFR Non-Certified Recruit Academy.
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