Legislation to resurrect a mental health hotline for EMS and firefighters in the state is working its way through Trenton. Senate Bill S2898 would carry a $250,000 annual price tag that sponsors hope would be supported by fines for fire code violations.

State Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, says some first responders struggle with mental health issues such as substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder from what they witness at fires, traffic accidents or crime scenes.

Madden says the helpline would be manned by fellow first responders.

"It gives them an avenue to try to help speak to someone else that has walked in their shoes," he said.

"It is an opportunity essentially for the government, with the support of the people, to lend psychological and mental health support to the firefighters and emergency medical personnel that are responding to the various calls and crises throughout the state."

The bill passed the state Senate Law and Public Safety Committee unanimously on Sept. 17. State Sens. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, and Linda Greenstein, D-Mercer, also co-sponsor the bill.

Rutgers Behavioral Health Clinician Sherrie Castellano, whose husband is a first responder, shared her expertise during a committee hearing on the bill.

"Someone's gotta rescue the rescuers who are saving everyone else and the commitment of these heroes really deserves this type of program," she said.

Castellano cited a study about the increase in suicides in firefighter deaths. They are also five times more likely to experience PTSD.

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