LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Lansing’s Fire Chief is sounding the alarm over mental health concerns for his department staff.  

The agency is down 25 employees, says Chief Brian Sturdivant. The fire department is responding to about 30,000 calls a year, double what it was handling 20 years ago with more staff. Staffing will continue to be a concern as seasoned staff retire over the next 18 to 24 months.  

“We kick in and go to work when our community is having typically the worst day of their lives,” Sturdivant says. “The cumulative effect of that over time can be quite devastating.” 

Lansing Fire Department Chief Brian Sturdivant. (WLNS)

Sturdivant says the employees of the fire department “continue to bend over backwards and turn themselves inside out” to provide services in the community despite the staffing shortages.  Those concerns were elevated with last week’s deadly storms, he says, with the department responding to double the normal call volume. 

“We’re all incredibly concerned,” says Lansing City Council Member Adam Hussain.

Hussain chairs Council’s Committee on Public Safety. He says while the city is offering what appears on paper to be a competitive salary, when compared with the number of calls and the complexity of those calls, it’s not enough.

“The incentive is just not great enough,” to join LFD, says Hussain. “We have to somehow outdo the competition.”

Hussain says he hopes city officials are working with federal and state partners to find financial solutions.

He says the storm was “unique” as an event, and responding to it was a strain, particularly with some members who had damage to their own properties and homes.  

From 2015 to 2017, emergency first responders accounted for one percent of suicides documented in National Violent Death Reporting System, according to a June 2023 study in the Journal of Safety Research. Among the deaths studied, 21 percent were firefighters, 18 percent were emergency medical service clinicians, 58 percent were law enforcement officers and 2 percent were public safety telecommunications staff.  

“We reduced the resources while the call volume has exploded,” the chief says. “For me as the chief, that level of trajectory is concerning because it is unsustainable.”  

Sturdivant says he is working with his department to “remove the stigma” associated with mental health.  

“Let it be known, through words, actions and deeds that it is indeed absolutely OK to not be OK,” he says.  

Failing to pay attention to mental health concerns, he says, could lead to tragic consequences. Firefighters and emergency medical services staff need time off and support, “to ensure that the situational awareness and the safety factor we need day in, and day out is not diminished because of ongoing and or lingering mental health issues.” 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health concerns call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.