Firefighter suicide in Illinois — could it happen in your organization?

Rest in peace, Nicole Hladik

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All suicides are tragic, but when it happens to a young firefighter who had been on the job for less than a year it is especially so. Nicole Hladik was not a wildland firefighter, but could it happen in any fire organization?


A family is searching for answers after a 27-year-old Hinsdale Firefighter (Illinois) who died by suicide. Firefighter Nicole Hladik was the only female firefighter at the Hinsdale Fire Department and the third in the town’s history. “Nicki was a bright rising star in the fire service, she was beloved by all of us of course and very happy early on,” Brian Kulaga, Hladik’s uncle, said.

But Kulaga said something changed recently.

“Then she traded shifts and suddenly just a lot of negativity and then leading up to today, which was obviously a complete surprise to all of us,” he said. Hladik died by suicide Tuesday and her brother Joseph Hladik said it was a complete shock. “Super active, super fit, a family person, a great friend, she’s my sister but my best friend,” he said. Hladik’s family said it doesn’t make sense. “Our goal is, we just want someone to look into this, it’s not an accusation. It’s just the facts are, how could someone who was so happy and loved what she was doing go from one spectrum to the other end? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Joseph Hladik said.

Newspaper stories about Nicole Hladik shortly after she was hired at the Hinsdale Fire Department:
–The Hinsdalean, October 9, 2019:  Village’s Newest Firefighter Is Happy To be “One Of The Gang”
–Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2019: Shout Out: Nicole Hladik of Willowbrook-Hinsdale’s newest Firefighter

Suicide rates among wildland firefighters have been described as “astronomical.

Help is available for those feeling really depressed or suicidal.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Firefighter suicide in Illinois — could it happen in your organization?”

  1. My first thought when I read this is that the change of shifts exposed her to either sexual harassment or serial assault by one of the firefighters or even more than one… The shift change is the catalyst for her suicide. Someone needs to dive into this deeper.

  2. Bill, thank you for sharing this post. Of course suicides can and will happen in the Fire Service. I’ve been a firefighter and Chaplain for 45 years and the pressure, stress and destruction that firefighters experience is a perfect prescription for mental difficulties to say the list. Fortunately we have come a long way over that time in providing education and tools for coping with the horrendous conditions that firefighters are constantly facing. I’ll never forget the oil refinery fire I responded to that killed 21 men. We can still do better for these precious men and women who stand on the border between order and chaos,

  3. I have to wonder what has changed in the fire service from when we were one to day and the increased suicide rates???


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