HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County community partners announced a new campaign aimed at preventing first responder suicide on Tuesday.

  • Bay area has seen number of first responder suicides grow recently
  • Campaign aims at dispelling stigmas associated with mental health treatment
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The partners involved in the effort announced the campaign Tuesday in observance of World Suicide Prevention Day. Representatives from the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay were joined for the announcement by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, and Tampa Fire Chief Nick LoCicero.

The campaign's call to action, according to a media release, "encourages first responders struggling with thoughts of suicide to call 211 and confidentially speak with professionals specifically trained to intervene when someone is facing a crisis."

“These brave men and women bear witness to countless scenes of trauma during their career but face a stigma that prevents them from getting help,” said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “This campaign will let our first responders know they are not alone.”

Breaking the stigma

Megan Vila is part of a family devoted to public safety and service. 

"My husband is a fire fighter, my baby brother is a fire fighter, my three nephews are fire fighters, all for the city of Tampa," Vila explained. "And then my brother-in-law is a detective for Hillsborough County and we have a nephew who works for TPD."

Those family ties, and the fact that Vila lost her older brother, firefighter Steve Ledue, to suicide, made today's announcement all the more important to Vila.

"After losing our older brother to suicide this was huge, because for me it was validation from the leadership," Vila explained. "From the Chief of Police, the Chief of the Fire Department, the Mayor of Tampa saying, 'we know that this is an issue, we got your back, and we’re going to cover you if you’re suffering from a mental injury.'"

She went on to explain that her brother, like so many others, saw things he could not un-see that eventually compelled him to take his own life. Vila expressed hope this new initiative promoting mental health for our bravest men and women will catch on and that her brother's memory will continue to live on.

"My brother loved everyone, and he had this smile," Vila said. "I thought about it today. He would do this little thing and he would crouch down and he would smile and he just wanted to make everybody happy and he treated everyone like they were a part of our family. Man, there should be more people like that."

The "First to Respond, Last to Ask for Help" campaign will run in Hillsborough County later in September. For more information, visit LastToAsk.com.