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LA County fire captains’ organization plans Sept. 11 concert in Malibu

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
7:35 am PDT September 8, 2017

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike Henry has been that injured firefighter in a hospital bed. 

In 2004, he was fighting a fire in Carson when the ceiling above him collapsed and a light fixture hit him, rendering him unconscious. He woke up with a concussion, a torn right knee, a strained shoulder, and a hurt back; his recovery took roughly a year, he said.

Outside of the physical impact, he learned about and fought against post-traumatic stress disorder. He also got divorced. Still, he is one of the lucky ones.

A Sept. 11 event in Malibu, put on by Henry and fellow LA County Fire Capt. Rick Brandelli’s LA-based Firefighters Down nonprofit organization, aims to make a difference in the lives of injured firefighters nationwide, including those who struggle with PTSD.

The benefit concert, featuring ’80s pop band A Flock of Seagulls, will be held at Pepperdine University’s 500-seat Smothers Theatre (24255 Pacific Coast Highway). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The event is appropriate for all ages and all in the community are welcome, Henry said.

“It’s going to be great to have the community come and show just an appreciation for what we do,” Henry said. “They’re going to be the spark that makes this program happen.”

Event speakers will include Malibu resident and famed actor Lou Gossett Jr. and Dr. Stephen Johnson, of the Los Angeles Men’s Center. A 30-minute film about the life of first responders will be shown. 

The band is expected to take the stage at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35, and can be purchased at pepperdinearts.ticketforce.com or by calling (310) 506-4522.

“We’d love to get, of course, the celebrity community there,” Henry added. “We have a red carpet.”

Those who cannot attend can tune in through a free livestream on the Firefighters Down Facebook page, facebook.com/firefighters
down/.

The concert, which Henry hopes to make an annual event, will also launch a Kickstarter campaign which aims to raise $100,000 so that Firefighters Down can bring injured firefighters to Malibu for monthly four-day intensive therapeutic programs designed by Johnson. 

From there, Firefighters Down hopes to plant a seed that will continue to benefit firefighters.

“When they go back home, they take these healings with them and now people can see how it works and that it really does,” Henry said. 

The weight of being a hero

“Today’s fireground has brought new obstacles to the fire service,” a release from Firefighters Down notes. “Gang violence, shootings, faster cars that provide minimal protection to occupants, weak building construction, terrorism, hazardous material all add up to over 30,000 fireground injures per year. America’s fire service responds to over 2 million emergency calls per year, the highest of all industrialized nations.”

But even after the job is done, the heroics can take a toll. Increased cancer rates, PTSD and injuries are of great concern, as is depression and suicide among firefighters. 

To date, Henry can count four fellow firefighters who have committed suicide. One of those suicides occurred just last month. 

The data on a nationwide scale is even more staggering, he said. 

According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, there have already been 59 suicide deaths (50 firefighters, nine Emergency Medical Technicians) in the U.S. in 2017; in 2016, there were 135 suicides in the U.S. (99 firefighters, 36 EMTs). The year 2015 was the highest in recent history with 138 suicides in the U.S., according to FBHA, which gains the stats through deaths reported to and validated by them. 

Through Firefighters Down, Henry wants to raise awareness of the very real dilemmas faced by his fellow men and women in the fire service.

“You can’t have a solution when people don’t know the problem,” he said.

To that end, Firefighters Down’s mission is to “speed the healing of firefighters’ minds, spirits and bodies after suffering life-altering injuries and illnesses.”

For more on the organization, visit firefighterdown.org.