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Gov. Northam Signs Bill into Law to Help Firefighters Access Mental Health Training

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Northam signed a bill on Tuesday to help firefighters Northam signed a bill on Tuesday to help firefighters
Governor Ralph Northam Governor Ralph Northam
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Governor Ralph Northam was in town on Tuesday, May 15, to sign a bill that will help firefighters deal with mental illness issues they may experience as a result of their job.

This new bill will make it so that localities across the state have to offer mental health training and awareness for new and current firefighters on a yearly basis.

“I think just all of us as Virginians and Americans need to realize what people like the firefighters and first responders do,” says Northam.

Governor Northam was joined by dozens of firefighters as he signed the Firefighter Mental Health Awareness Bill into law on Tuesday afternoon.

“So things like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even if you look at instance of suicide, it’s increased amongst our firefighters and first responders,” says Northam.

The bill signing comes as dozens of firefighters are meeting in Charlottesville at the Omni for the 35th biannual Virginia Professional Firefighters Association convention.

“Our goal is to educate personnel to the effects of what we see every day, things that the normal population don't see and shouldn't have to see, so they understand the feelings that they have,” says Robert Bragg, the president of the Virginia Professional Firefighters Association.

The firefighters association says it’s really looking to change the culture of fire service.

“The fire service has been late to come to the table on this,” says Bragg. “We lived in a culture back when I was on the job 30 years ago, you just toughed it up, you didn't dare say that you were feeling emotions about a call or anything like that.”

But that mentality has since changed.

“It’s normal to feel what you feel,” says Bragg.

“We know that we're all human and if there are issues with those types of things we want them to access professionals, people that can help them through that so that they can continue to do their job on a day-to-day basis,” says Northam.

Northam says he believes this bill takes a large step in making people more aware of mental illness and that we as people experience things that are sometimes unpleasant.

That mental health bill will take effect on July 1.