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Video: After 2 FF deaths, Fla. chief asks for help, vows more mental health support

Chief James Banta asked Marion County FD members to be check in with each other following the deaths of Firefighter-Paramedics Tripp Wooten and Allen Singleton


Photos/Marion County Fire Rescue

By Leila Merrill

OCALA, Fla. — After two firefighters died in separate incidents less than a month apart, Marion County Fire Chief James Banta is promising to make changes to better support department members’ mental health needs, WCJB reported Wednesday.

In a video posted this week, the chief says that the department “is in pain, confused and upset.”

“Many have expressed concerns that low pay, workload, mandatory overtime, lack of sleep, substance abuse, PTSD and addiction could be examples of the root cause. These are all valid issues, and we are planning on addressing them,” Banta says. “We must address these factors.”

The chief said he contacted the Florida Fire Chiefs Association to make use of the mental health strike team. He also plans to bring in International Association of Firefighters mental health teams.

Banta said he is open to recommendations.

In the video, the chief asks his team to help him by noticing when others have changes in mood or behavior that may be warning signs.

“I am here for you,” Banta says, encouraging his colleagues to stay strong and keep taking each next step.

Firefighter-Paramedic Tripp Wooten died on Jan. 9. His memorial service has been held.

“Tripp was a 14-year veteran firefighter who joined the ranks of Marion County Fire Rescue on December 15, 2006. Prior to his hiring, Tripp was a member of the 2006 MCFR Career Academy Class. Most recently assigned to our Lynne Station #4, Tripp spent many years as a member of the “Hames Road Hooligans” at our MCFR Belleview Station #18,” Fire Chief James Banta wrote in a Jan. 9 Facebook post. “Tripp was an amazingly talented FF/PM, he never met a stranger and possessed a sense of humor that brightened the days of all who came in contact with him.”

Wooten is survived by his wife and two children.

Firefighter-Paramedic Allen Singleton died on Saturday. A service for him is upcoming.

“Allen was a 6-year veteran firefighter who joined the ranks of Marion County Fire Rescue on September 12, 2016. Prior to his hiring, Allen was a member of the 2016 MCFR Non-Certified Recruit Academy. His last assignment was Rolling Greens Station #28, where he was a proud member of the MCFR/MCSO SWAT Medic team. Allen was a competitive person by nature, winning back-to-back Golden Axe awards for MCFR physical competitions,” Banta wrote in a Facebook post. “Our department has been shaken to the core.”

Singleton is also survived by his wife and children.