A group of walkers, two of which are wearing shirts in honor of the late Briar Awtry with the Barnes City Fire Department who died in February due to PTSD, make their way along the route during National Firefighters Suicide Prevention Awareness 5K walk and run on Sunday, Sept. 24.
By J.O. Parker
Volunteer members of the Montezuma Fire and Rescue Department along with local and area residents joined forces and participated in the National Firefighter Suicide Prevention Awareness 5K.
The event, which was held on Sunday, Sept. 24, drew nearly 100 walkers and runners who showed up to support volunteer emergency personnel and first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those fighting against raising suicide numbers among emergency services personnel.
The Montezuma Fire and Rescue Department hosted the 5K in honor of late department members, Briar Awtry, with the Barnes City Fire Department and Shane McCaslen, a long-time volunteer with the Montezuma Fire Department.
“There’s always been a stigma behind mental health, not just for first responders, but for everyone,” said Marissa Geerlings, an EMT and ambulance driver with the MFD, who helped organize the 5K walk. “First responders see people on their worst days and we’re trying to make it a priority to help each other out.”
“PTSD and suicides are a rising number in the emergency services,” said Cody Meinecke, a volunteer with both the Montezuma and Barnes City fire departments. “I believe it’s something we have to work harder on along with the community support. Having the support of our communities helps more than most know.”
“It was an absolute honor to be involved in this walk,” said Joel Kercheval, a long-time member of the Montezuma Fire and Rescue Department. “Our department has been affected very deeply by the passing of two of our own and we felt it was extremely important to help bring awareness to this issue. The public participation and support we received was amazing. All of our members were humbled by the amount of people who signed up to participate, offered support, and reached out to us during the planning phases of the event.”
As an emergency responder, Meinecke said PTSD and suicide prevention are real issues that everyone needs to be aware of, be able to recognize the warning signs and know how to help their brothers and sisters get the help they need.
“This suicide prevention 5K meant a lot to me as I lost my best friend and brother last February to PTSD,” noted Meinecke.”
Meinecke wore full turnout gear for the walk with Awtry’s name on the back of his gear in support of his long-time friend and comrade.
“This walk represents us telling our fellow emergency responders we are here for each other,” Meinecke went on to say. “Reach out and let’s stop this number from rising and see it decline.”
“As it hit close to home this year, we felt it was important to participate and draw awareness to our own community,” said Bill Bolen, MFD Fire Chief. “Like most departments, you never think it will happen to yours but we know it can. We were so happy and thankful with the turnout for this event.”
“We look forward to holding this event each year going forward and being able to make a donation to organizations that offer aid and assistance to first responders is an added bonus,” said Kercheval.
“The one thing I can’t emphasize enough is to check on your loved ones,” said Geerlings.