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'We lost a friend and we lost a brother:' Boise Fire holds memorial service for fallen firefighter

More first responders died by suicide in 2018 than in the line of duty, now departments are trying to break the stigma of mental health.

BOISE, Idaho — The Boise Fire Department held a memorial service for one of their own on Saturday. Charlie Ruffing took his own life last month after serving with the department for over 20 years. 

His death highlights a growing issue affecting first responders in the Treasure Valley and across the county. Last year, more police officers and firefighters across the country died by suicide than in the line of duty.

"We're going to honor Charlie, and his 20 years of service with the Boise Fire Department and his commitment to the citizens of the Boise,” Boise City Fire Chief Dennis Doan said. "Well, Charlie passed away from complications due to PTSD/PTSI."

PTSD and PTSI are issues affecting first responders across the country, as police officers and firefighters face extreme pressures in the line of duty.

MORE: Idaho governor signs first responder PTSI bill into law

"It's the constant ongoing calls to everyone else’s worst day that takes a toll on firefighters and police officers,” Doan said.

Over in California, the Los Angeles Police Department is starting to make changes like adding psychologists in the field in an effort to find a solution to the growing crisis.

"Whether it be the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting. Or having just witness the loss of a child, at a radio call. Or just the perils of life,” Michel Moore, the LAPD chief of police, said. “That as they have those interactions they have seen that the real-life toll and burden that this profession can put on our people. And that at times, the results of that, and tragically, has been our own personnel resorting to suicide and dealing with that pain.”

It’s something that the Boise Fire Department is also trying.

"We also have peer support groups we've been using and a physician that's been helping us through this and through the long term,” Doan said. “And we also have a psychologist and psychiatrist on staff to help our firefighters."

All of this is in an effort to help prevent a first responder from taking their own life.

"We lost a friend and we lost a brother but we're going to try to learn from this,” Doan said. “We're going to try to do better in the future so this never happens again.”

The chief says the post-traumatic stress injury legislation is needed badly, and this loss only further proves that for him. 

The governor signed the bill into law back in March. It takes effect at the start of July.

The new law gives first responders workers' compensation coverage to get professional help for post-traumatic stress injuries suffered as a result of their jobs.

If you or someone that you know needs help or is at risk, contact the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357.

MORE: Honoring our fallen law enforcement officers in Canyon County

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