SUN CITY, Ariz. — A medical examination found that the death of an on-duty Sun City firefighter in June stemmed from an accidental drug overdose.
Shane Godbehere, 36, died in his sleep while he was working at Station 131. He was a 15-year veteran of the department.
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His sudden death stunned the small, close-knit department that employs just over 100 first responders.
“[Godbehere’s] death really hit us hard,” Assistant Chief Rob Schmitz said in June. “We have had an outpouring of support from the firefighting community.”
A toxicology report released Tuesday found that Godbehere had a variety of drugs in his system when he died, including trace elements of fentanyl, oxycodone, cocaine and other amphetamines.
His death was officially ruled an accidental drug overdose from acute polydrug toxicity.
Godbehere was laid to rest on June 17 after a funeral at Desert Springs Bible Church.
The department released the following statement in response to the medical examiner's ruling:
MCSO is running the investigation and have not completed their findings yet. We have been made aware via the public Medical Examiners report that he passed from an accidental overdose.
While this is tragic and very sad, we need to remember that Shane was one of our family and is dearly missed. His family has asked for as much privacy as possible.
We continuing [sic] to focus on our members well being, looking out for one another, and serving our community.
Our message to our members has been to, please reach out if you need help or see someone that does. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to get help. We have many avenues available to help out members and their families in times of need.
His fiancée, Brooke Walker told 12News she and her family were unaware of any illicit drug use. Walker sent the following statement:
We are deeply saddened and still grieving over the loss of Shane.
Like many first responders, Shane suffered from mental health & depression issues.
In addition to these issues - A few months before his passing, Shane was hospitalized for Covid & pneumonia which had extreme affects on his neurological health.
We do not want Shane's struggles to be his legacy.
We ask that he be remembered as a brave & selfless father and firefighter which was the largest part of his life.
First responders turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with the traumatic events they experienced happens all too often.
"There is a strong connection with trauma, post-traumatic stress, and depression increased with these first responders," said Tyler Harrell, the CEO of the Greenhouse Treatment Center. "Alcohol and drugs are a way to cope."
Harrell said male firefighters are 10 to 20 times more likely to binge drink or self-medicate with drugs. "You can imagine that has to deal with the stress," he said.
It's an issue firefighters in Arizona have also seen. "Unfortunately it's been something we've struggled with for decades," said United Phoenix Firefighters president Bryan Willingham.
Daily stress firefighters endure from lack of sleep, responding to drownings, and rushing into burning buildings piles on.
Willingham said, "The depression sets in, and you start thinking about those calls."
Over the years, he said mental health services for firefighters have improved. with several new programs. "We try to really focus on reducing the stigma," Willingham said. "We make it okay for someone to raise their hand and say, 'hey I have a problem.'"
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