The Reality of Firefighter Post Traumatic Stress

“The traditional culture of fire service is that it’s a sign you’re broken, it’s a sign of weakness. "It’s not a sign of weakness, It’s a sign you’re a human being ..." 

Firefighters are asked to face trials that few outside the profession can imagine – from horrific disasters such as catastrophic fires and mass shootings to everyday horrors such as fatal accidents and children sometimes dying in their arms.

The stress of the job takes its toll on even the strongest individuals. And sometimes, that stress boils over.

FIREFIGHTERS AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS

Firefighting is one of the most stressful occupations imaginable -- only combat soldiers endure more stress.

  • Constant exposure to horrific events
  • Life and death decisions in your hands
  • Erratic and unusual sleep patterns
  • Large workload -- response and training
  • Long separation from family (long shifts, mutual aid strike teams, wildfire responses)

Like the military, firefighters are uniquely susceptible to the emotional and mental impacts these stresses. 

According to national research, roughly one in five firefighters in the U.S. and Canada suffer from a treatable post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). The effects of post-traumatic stress can be seen in an array of issues ... some seemingly trivial, others deadly:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Marital and family issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide

WATCH: Invisible Wounds (NBC Bay Area)

SUICIDE IS NOT PAINLESS

It's hard to pinpoint an exact number, but one estimate puts the number of firefighter suicides in 2016 at 99. A survey co-authored by California Professional Firefighters and NBC-Bay Area found that nearly one in six firefighters have considered suicide. National surveys have put the number as high as one in three.

While suicide in the general population is primarily the result of depression, firefighters more often kill themselves because of post-traumatic stress.

The stories are heartbreaking:

WATCH: Brendan McDonough, the lone surviving Granite Mountain Hotshot talks of the trauma and thoughts of suicide after the Yarnell Hills Fire claimed 19 of his brother and sister firefighters.

Understanding Firefighter Post-Traumatic Stress

CPF Firevision -- Healing Our Own -- California Professional Firefighters video podcast

"Bringing PTSD Out of the Shadows" -- Fire Fighter Magazine (IAFF)

"Overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress" -- IAFF Kitchen Table Podcast

"Dustin Hawkins" -- Behind the Shield audio podcast