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Nampa Fire retiree discusses importance of mental health resources for first responders

Sarah DeFur has been a firefighter in the Treasure Valley for 20 years. She said up until recently, the stigma around mental health stopped her from seeking help.

NAMPA, Idaho —

First responders are five times more likely to experience depression and PTSD, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente. Researchers said it is due to often being exposed to traumatic events and life-threatening situations. 

One Nampa firefighter knows that struggle all too well. 

After 20 years of fighting fires in the Treasure Valley, Nampa Fire Department's Sarah DeFur will put on her gear one last time Friday afternoon. She is trading fighting fires for spending more time with her family.

“I love being a firefighter and I love getting on that engine, but I like to be home with my kids too,” DeFur said. 

Defur began her fire career at age 19 at the Star Fire District. 

"They saw a young ambitious 19-year-old and said, ‘come on board we'll teach you all about firefighting’ and I was immediately hooked," DeFur said.

After a year with Star Fire, she joined Eagle Fire and worked with their team for three years. 

Then she found her home with Nampa Fire Department, where she's been able to make a difference in that community for 16 years.

DeFur said the original plan was to stop after she had kids. Now, five kids later, she's finally ready to call it. 

"And when our fifth child came along it was, 'Hey let's get you home,'" DeFur said. 

While becoming a full-time, stay-at-home mother was a huge factor in her decision to retire at 40 years old, she said the mental roadblocks have played a role as well. 

"My heart's tired, my mind is tired and I want to get home," DeFur said. 

Nine years ago, DeFur and her husband lost their four-year-old daughter, Alyson, in a car accident in July 2013.

"I didn't think I would ever come back to work, but I did. I just trudged through and it was really, truly by the grace of God. But mentally that was really starting to wear on me," DeFur said. 

Trudging through was how she dealt with the other traumatic events and life-threatening situations she witnessed as a first responder too. 

"On a day-to-day life, a lot of times you just get the job done, you just file it in the back of your head, and you move forward," DeFur said. 

However, DeFur began to notice that ‘just moving forward’ began to take a toll on her life. 

"It just really begins to affect your sleeping, your eating, your exercising, you name it," DeFur said. 

It wasn't until she began seeing a counselor and talking that she began to feel better. 

"We got to process this stuff, and we got to learn how to live through it," DeFur said.

As she prepares for her departure from the Nampa Fire team, DeFur is glad to see more of these conversations being promoted around the department. 

"It's okay to talk about this stuff. And guess what? Even when you talk about it, it doesn't make you weak, it actually makes you stronger," DeFur said. 

On Friday at 1 p.m, the Nampa Fire Department will hold a ceremony for DeFur's retirement. 

DeFur said while in retirement she plans to work with her counselor, Dr. Kimberley Crawford, on mental health resources and education around Idaho. 

Crawford travels around the Gem State to provide polyvagal-based interventions for trauma prevention and resolution in first responders as a partnership with the Idaho Resilience Project.

DeFur hopes to share her story and encourage other first responders to reach out for help.

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