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Firefighters who took their own lives will be added to memorial

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COLORADO SPRINGS -

With the annual IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter's Memorial ceremony coming up this weekend in Colorado Springs, 196 names of firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice will be added to the memorial.

Among them, a handful who didn't die in the line of duty, rather, from suicide caused by post-traumatic stress disorder they got on the job.

Usually when we hear about PTSD, it's related to our military but it's a growing issue among firefighters too.

They are first on scene to nearly every emergency, from fires, to drownings, to terrible accidents, they see it all and it can take a toll.

"Every three days, he experienced a trauma and then he came home to his family for 27 years," Leslie Dangerfield, a widow said.

David Dangerfield was a Battalion Chief in Florida. 

But sadly one day, his wife, Leslie took the last call she would ever get from him.

"I love you, you're a good mom, take care of our kids... I begged him, please don't leave them, please don't do this, he said I can't do it anymore, I can't, the nightmares, I can't do it anymore," she said.

She had seen some warning signs. For years, he struggled with anger outbursts, sometimes irrational behavior and trouble sleeping.

"His nightmares about babies dying in his arms, about trying to save someone from a shark bite who lost a limb or he couldn't find a body part and had to bring a decapitated body onto the beach where the mother was standing," she said.

Sadly, he's not alone.

"He knows exactly what calls, I know exactly what calls, haunted him, they were mostly related to children," Diana Sandell, another widow said.

Richard Sandell, a Florida firefighter for 18 years, also took his life when his wife Diana was pregnant with their third child.

"I called a therapist and said I need help and I was waiting on him to come home and he came home and he didn't say anything, he just walked in the door and he committed suicide," Sandell said.

He had similar warning signs and terrible experiences with a girl that got her arm stuck in an elevator and pulling a drowned family of a three out of a lake, all causing him post-traumatic stress.

"He was having night sweats, night terrors, he was not sleeping, his behavior just downward spiraled," she said.

Both men and several others who committed suicide will be added to the firefighter memorial.

And Dangerfield has made it her mission to push for better education, stronger resources and more attention on mental health for firefighters.

"For the International Association of Fire Fighters to still recognize as having passed away in the line of duty even though they weren't literally on duty, it means so much to us to have their support," Dangerfield said.

The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance says there are resources available for all union firefighters that might be struggling with PTSD.

It's still an issue in its infancy, but we're also told Colorado has a strong peer support program with experienced trained professionals ready to help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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