Alabama firefighter starts The 911 Buddy Check Project after former coworker’s suicide

By Leigh Garner – WIAT

ALABASTER, Ala. (WIAT) – Daniel Mills had been having the same conversation with his friends and coworkers for months.

“I said, we’ve really got to fix this,” Mills explained.  “There’s something wrong with our people.”

Mills had worked as a flight medic, fireman, and a paramedic–for more than 15 years.  He also served in the military.

“I deal with stuff too,” he told CBS42 News.  “Everyday.”

Two years ago, he ran into his old partner, David Farris, from the ambulance service at the UAB Emergency Room.

“He was a paramedic and a fireman, a nurse, and he’s kind of done and seen a lot,” Mills said. “I saw him at UAB one day and we were both dropping off patients.  He got off work the next morning and committed suicide.”

Mills had talked with Farris that day for more than an hour.  He could tell that something with off, but he didn’t ask if Farris was okay.  When he saw the news of his friend’s death on social media, he knew he had to do something.

“It started that day when I said down with my friends and I said, let’s think of a name,” Mills explained.  “My buddy was like, 911 Buddy Check.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and even though the month is almost over, Mills and the people affiliated with The 911 Buddy Check Project want to spread the word.  “If we can prevent one, we’ll prevent a thousand,” Mills said of first-responder suicides.

“Every Wednesday, I would just say hey, if you’re an emergency services provider–if you’re dealing with some stuff–any post traumatic stress, substance abuse issues–reach out,” Mills said.  “It just exploded.  I think we’ve got a little over 3 or 4 thousand followers on the page now.”

The page is made up of firefighters, police, EMTs, dispatchers, and nurses and ER doctors.  Members write in from all over the world.  Mills shares a weekly video where he talks about his own demons and what motivates him.

“We’ve actually had, probably over a thousand in the last two years that we’ve been able to get either hooked up to some kind of formal counseling, pastoral care, or substance abuse care,” Mills said.

To learn more, you can find The 911 Buddy Check Project on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Posted in Brotherhood, Fire Service, Firefighter Health, Firefighting, Leadership, PTSD.