SECTION 1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) Firefighters frequently respond to traumatic incidents and dangerous circumstances, including, but not limited to, fires, stabbings, gun battles and shootings, domestic violence, terrorist acts, riots, automobile accidents, airplane crashes, earthquakes, and other gruesome scenes that have a profound impact on the mental health of these professionals. They are exposed to harmful substances, such as blood, urine, and vomit. They witness grave injuries, death, and grief. They are frequently placed in harm's way, with significant risk of bodily harm or physical assault while performing the duties of their jobs.
(2) The traumatic and unpredictable nature of the firefighting profession results in a high-stress working environment that can take an overwhelming mental, emotional, and physical toll on personnel. Chronic exposure to traumatic events and critical incidents increases the risk for post-traumatic stress and other stress-induced injuries.
(3) While most firefighters survive the traumas of their jobs, sadly, many experience the impacts of occupational stressors when off duty. The psychological and emotional stress of the profession can have a detrimental impact long after the shift is over.
(4) Such trauma-related injuries can become overwhelming, manifesting in post-traumatic stress, which may result in substance use disorders and even, tragically, suicide. The fire service is four times more likely to experience a suicide
than a "traditional" death in the line of duty in any year.
(5) Firefighters face uniquely dangerous risks in their mission to keep the public safe. These professionals rely on each other for survival while placing their lives on the line every day to protect the communities they serve.
(6) The culture of emergency services has often inhibited its personnel from asking for assistance in battling their psychological stress for fear it will cause ridicule, shame, or adverse job action.
(7) California has a responsibility to ensure that its emergency service and public safety agencies are equipped with the tools necessary to assist firefighters to mitigate the occupational stress that they experience as a result of performing their job duties and protecting the public.
(b) It is therefore the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would establish a Peer Support Program to enable critically needed peer support for California's firefighters.