A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘My Brother’s Burden Walk’ coming to Kentucky, as firefighter calls attention to plight of colleagues

According to the International Association of Firefighters, cancer is the leading cause of firefighter death in the United States. All but eight states now have presumptive cancer laws.

In addition, the subject of first responder PTSD and suicide is not new but, as the years roll on, it continues taking the lives of our firefighters, law enforcement officials, and EMS workers.

According to a report by USA Today, a new study by the Ruderman Family Foundation —
 an organization that works for the rights of the disabled — took a look at depression and post-traumatic stress in first responders and the rates of suicide in public safety agencies nationwide.

The data in the report is striking. In 2017, there were 103 firefighters and 140 police officers who committed suicide, a figure which slightly outpaced the 93 firefighters and 129 police officers who died in the line of duty.

The study reveals that first responders are affected by PTSD at a rate five times greater than the average civilian.

Retired Florida firefighter Tom “Bull” Hill has seen what cancer and PTSD can do to his friends and in some cases, it has cost them their lives.

He has started his “My Brother’s Burden Walk” to call attention to these issues.

Hill has walked from the Florida Keys to the State Capital in Tallahassee to bring awareness to these issues.

His goal is to walk in all 50 states. He will walk in Kentucky next — for six days beginning Aug. 19.

He is looking for help from the firefighters and others to help support his cause — and to walk with him in Kentucky.

Hill collects helmet shields, pass tags and even small vials of human remains and carries them with him on every walk. He has amassed enough items to fill seven military style backpacks, each weighing more than 50 pounds. He wants to remember every firefighter who still battles with cancer and/or PTSD issues along with honoring those that are no longer with us.

Hill’s Kentucky walk will begin at the Burlington cemetery and end at Lexington’s Fire Headquarters six days later.

This walk of nearly 100 miles is meant to bring awareness to our first responders battling with PTSD and cancer and honor our fallen. Along the way Tom will stay in the fire stations overnight and meet with other firefighters and law enforcement officials.

Anyone wanting to walk part of the route or assist with other aspects of this event need to contact Noell Saunders at noellsaunders72@gmail.com.

Kentucky Emergency Management/Burlngton

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