(KRON) – Local firefighters, first responders, veterans, and their families are opening up an important conversation about suicide awareness and mental health through hiking.

The 50K hiking event wrapped up Monday and was planned by a son, who lost his father to suicide one year ago today.

Photo: Alameda County Firefighters

Edward Smith III served as an Alameda firefighter for 30 years before he died by suicide.

Barney Smith, who is his son, planned this event in honor of his dad and all first responders and veterans that struggle with mental health.

“Dad was a big supporter of whatever I did,” said Barney Smith. “I love him and miss him daily. I am doing this for suicide awareness for people who think there is no help.”

Firefighters and first responders hiked for 24 hours starting in Livermore and ending in the city of Alameda.

The 24-hour period represents the shift of a firefighter.

Donavan Mikel, 11, is wearing his fathers helmet, sitting on his fathers engine that he lost to suicide in June 2019. Photo: Alameda County Firefighters

Palo Alto firefighter, Marine veteran and suicide advocate John Preston talked with us about the support that poured in from local firefighter departments during the hike.

“There is a special bond and connection between those who have faced the tragic loss of a loved one to suicide,” said John Preston. “It is my privilege to help honor his father in this way.”

The 50K hike was also held in honor of Eric Mikel, who died of suicide in June of 2019.

Robyn Mikel, Eric’s wife, joined firefighters and first responders for the hike.

She spoke with us about the daily struggles firefighters face on the job, which is something that she has witnessed first hand.

“If the public knew what was going on inside some of these firefighters heads while they’re responding to these emergency calls inside their homes its like. I think that its pretty scary. I mean if I’m calling somebody to come save my house thats on fire to come save by dad thats having a heart attack, I want the healthiest, most alert person coming to my door. I don’t want somebody that is half awake, you know that may be suffering from some kind of PTSD, you know what I mean like, I just don’t think the public is at all aware. I have this thing where, you know lately with the wildfires, we talk about firefighters and first responders being super heroes and it drives me crazy because, my son here and Eric they were big comic book fans and Marvel and DC, so  like when I hear about the super hero its somebody that has super human power. They’re not human beings, they have some special strength about them. Well we’re asking our firefighters to do these super human jobs and they’re just regular people, they’re human beings and they break.”

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