MN House passes first responder 'PTSD Bill'

Published: May. 15, 2018 at 9:18 PM CDT
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Many kids say they want to be a firefighter. Brian Cristofono happened to follow through.

His dream turned profession, eventually becoming a firefighter in St Paul.

"That's where I started having issues," he said.

But soon, the service took its toll.

"There was a six-month-old, I remember going to, at 8 in the morning and the baby had been beaten to death and we just knew it was not breathing. We got to the hospital and I remember looking into the room and just kept doing chest compressions. I went into the bathroom and I just locked myself in there and just balled because my son was a year old at the time," Cristofono said. "That was it, another 23 hours to go, and we didn't talk about it. There was no intervention. There's nothing. You are just left to deal with it."

Nightmares started. Calls kept coming. Panic attacks started. Day after day. Year after year. No help.

"So you try to push through it you try to deal with it and at the same time you are going 'what's wrong with me? Why am I acting this way? Why am I having nightmares? Why can't I man up and deal with this everybody else does? Why am I so crabby? Why am I drinking a lot? Why is my marriage falling apart? Why can't I control my -- like it's out of control and finally after so long of this going on you just start thinking this is never going to change. I am broken. I am defective and this is not going to get any better. Then things get really dark.

Throughout his career, Brian lost three coworkers to suicide.

"This was Greg Hicks. Greg took his life," Cristofono said. A feeling he can relate to...

"Yeah, I did get to that point, twice."

What pulled him out?

"My son. Thinking of him and I joke at my seminars. It's not joking it's dark humor but ... I had a positive flashback before I pulled the trigger and I remembered telling families and seeing that their loved one was dead and there was nothing I could do and the reaction in the screams and I thought my son getting that and I couldn't do that to him," Cristofono explained.

After going through that, Cristofono made his claim for worker's compensation. Filing with the city for his injury…of PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He says a psychologist diagnosed it. Followed by a list of events believed to have caused it.

And what did the city say?

"There was no physical injury associated with any of those calls. So it could not be PTSD," Cristofono said.

Workers comp denied.

Cristofono eventually sued the city and says the case was settled out of court. He officially retired last year and is now using his time to share his story with other police and firefighters.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota House passed a bill that would no longer make police, firefighters, paramedics have to prove what caused their PTSD. The bill shifts that burden of proof and it is now assumed. A few more steps -- and the next Brian -- will get the help he needs right away.