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How South Jersey firefighters seek to prevent suicides among their own

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image courtesy of YouTube 


Peggy Mallen-Walczak sat on the couch in her Egg Harbor Township home Wednesday afternoon, flipping through a binder full of certificates her son, Albert “Albie” Mallen Jr., had earned over his 20 years as an Atlantic City firefighter.

There were certificates for first aid and first-responder training, “but there’s no mental health,” she said.

Albie died June 26, 2017, after he was struck on the tracks of an Atlantic City Rail Line train through Galloway Township. He was 45, and one of 103 firefighters to die by suicide nationally in 2017.

Last year, the number of firefighter suicides outnumbered the 93 firefighters who died in the line of duty, according to the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders. The study found that post-traumatic stress disorder and depression rates among firefighters can be up to five times higher than non-firefighters, leading to more suicides. In South Jersey, fire departments are working to decrease that number through opening communication, offering counseling services after traumatic incidents and, in Atlantic City, a new training.

Mallen-Walczak blames her son’s death on the state, which took over the Atlantic City Fire Department in April of last year, slashing salaries by 20 percent and changing the work schedule to three 24-hour shifts a week.