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By Miriam Raftery

Updated Nov. 22, 2017 to include information on suicide prevention for firefighters through the Firefighters Behavioral Health Alliance.

November 6, 2017 (Pine Valley) – Local firefighters, heroic in battling flames and saving lives, today are grieving the tragic loss of one of their own.  Cal Fire Unit Chief and County Fire Chief Tony Mecham announced yesterday on Facebook, “It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that I notify you of the passing of Fire Captain Ryan Mitchell from Station 20. Ryan took his own life this morning at the Pine Valley Bridge shortly after completing his shift.”

“This tragic and unexplainable incident has affected many personnel in the Unit, both those that knew Ryan and those that responded to the incident,” Chief Mecham wrote.

“Throughout the day we have placed many personnel off duty and will continue to focus on our staff in addition to the needs of the family.”  Tomorrow morning, peer counselors and clinicians will be on hand to help Cal Fire personnel affected by the loss.

Units from Battalion 4 responded to the call that came into the Cal Fire’s Monte Vista headquarters on Jamacha Road in El Cajon, where Captain Mitchell worked.  Cal Fire and the firefighters’ union have assigned liaisons to the family. AT the Cal Fire firefighters’ local 2881 Facebook page, a black armband has been added across the logo, symbolizing the loss. 

“I am proud of our personnel and the efforts undertaken today under very difficult conditions. I especially want to thank those personnel who spent the day at the scene and accompanied Ryan to the Medical Examiner’s Office this evening,” said Chief Mecham, who also praised support received from the San Diego County Sheriff, California Highway Patrol and United States Border Patrol,” Chief Mecham said.

“While we may never know exactly what lead to this tragic event, what we do know is that mental health issues are real and no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help,” Chief Mecham continued. “Circumstances at work and in our personal lives affect our mental health and quality of life. There are many resources available to all of us through Employee Support Services, Employee Assistance Programs and our own personal network.”

He urged Cal Fire personnel to support each other and “do everything we can to help those in need or going through difficult times,” adding that he and the leadership team “will do everything in our power to support you.”

On Facebook, Janice Tull wrote, “My co-workers at Monte Vista deal with these types of tragedies on a daily basis, but the sorrow was amplified when the identity of the young man was revealed to be a part of the fire family from Station 20. I pray for comfort and peace for the family. Much love and respect for my fellow dispatchers.”

The Pine Valley Creek bridge, also known as the Nello Irwin Greer Memorial Bridge, is 440 feet high with a 450-foot span, one of the highest bridges in the U.S. Named for the engineer who found a way to spare the region’s pine forests from destruction, the cantilevered bridge has tragically been the scene of many suicides through the years.

If you are suffering from depression, there is help available.

For firefighters, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance offers workshops and resources for firefighters and their families, designed by a retired rural battalion chief, Jeff Dill.  You can read our interview with him here:

He wants wants firefighters to know “that it is okay; we are at our strongest when we ask for help ourselves.”

To get help, or for more information from the , visit or call them at 847-209-8208.

For immediate help during a crisis, you can also dial 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255, or call the Share the Load Program at 1-888-731-3473.

You can also call the San Diego Access and Crisis hotline at (888) 724-7240. Know the warning signs of suicide, and seek immediate help when you hear or see any of these behaviors. You could save a life.

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