More Than A Firefighter: A Mental Health Advocate - Central County Fire & Rescue

More Than A Firefighter: A Mental Health Advocate

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” It’s hard to imagine the impact this one word can have. For CCFR firefighter Jason Meinershagen, the seconds that led to a mayday call would lead to a series of life-changing events.

The call came in for a fire at a heating oil facility in 2019. As they always do, the crew got to work extinguishing the blaze. While responding to the call inside the dark, smoke-filled building, Meinershagen fell into a 6-foot deep maintenance pit. The mayday call went out over the radio, signaling to everyone on scene that a fellow firefighter was in distress.

“When it first happened I thought to myself, this is it … this is where I’m going to die,” he recalls. Within seconds, he was working his way out of the pit, and with the help of other firefighters on the scene, he was able to escape the burning building. As he was loaded into the ambulance, reality started to settle in that this call would be life changing.

Jason had broken his back and was forced to leave the truck for three months of medical care and physical rehabilitation. It was during this time away from the station that the emotional toll of 23 years on the job came to the surface. Over two decades worth of memories from responding to traumatic scenes, being there for others on their darkest days and witnessing countless tragedies were ever-present. By reaching out for professional help, he was able to process these experiences and discovered healthy ways to cope with years of post-traumatic stress.

“The situations we experience change us as people. The human mind isn’t meant to see and experience many of the traumatic things first responders have to experience on a daily basis. It’s time to take away the stigma that comes with post-traumatic stress and mental health. It’s okay to talk about it … and it’s okay to ask for help,” he says.

Shortly after returning to the truck, Meinershagen realized his physical injuries were too severe for him to remain on active duty as a frontline firefighter. A new role as the District’s public information officer became available, and he jumped at the opportunity to connect with the community and share the stories of CCFR and its employees.

He has also jumped on the opportunity to spread the word about the importance of mental health awareness. Within the first few months, he worked with the Central County Community Outreach program to start the Community Crisis Assistance Program (CCAP). This first-of-its-kind mental health initiative provides free counseling services to area residents who have experienced a traumatic event. Counseling is provided by licensed professional counselors who are trained in helping people navigate the aftermath of physical and mental trauma.

He is also in the fire stations daily, meeting with the crews, talking through the day-to-day calls on the job, and reminding his fellow firefighters that it’s okay to not be okay with the things they see and experience every day, and most importantly, that it’s okay to get help.

According to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, approximately 20% of firefighters and paramedics suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to 3.5% of the general population. These rates have been compared to those of combat veterans. Suicide rates are estimated to be 10 times greater than the national average.


The More Than A Firefighter video series is an informational effort by Central County Fire & Rescue to educate the community about the dangers facing our local professional firefighters and provide information about Proposition R to provide additional funding for the District’s retirement program.