Firefighters & Stress Management

Courtesy of American Addiction Centers

Fire alarms. Speeding to the scene. Burning buildings, victims, and the seconds that make the difference between tragedy and triumph. It’s no wonder why firefighters have one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Stress causes an inflammatory response in the system, which can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, not to mention anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

In a Post-Gazette article about mental training to cope with stress, Captain Ed Farley says, "Is it a stressful job? Absolutely. Is it an exciting job? Absolutely and very rewarding. But is it a heartbreaking job? Yeah. The things we see, how people live, the destruction that fire does, or a person in an accident, or a person in pain, you take that home with you.”

The article also notes that persistent noise levels of constant firehouse radios and citywide alarms – sounds that may not be relevant to duty – can still elevate stress.

Coping Mechanisms

Oftentimes, stress can simply make one feel tired, rundown, ready for a break, and longing for personal rewards; many firefighters turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. By creating awareness about stress management among firehouses, and by implementing coping skills and changes in lifestyle, improvements in sleeping patterns, cognitive ability, immune function, and overall health can be made.

For firefighters, stress can’t be avoided, but it can be managed. Coping techniques for acute and chronic stress include:

  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Positive thinking – even small, optimistic thoughts or funny anecdotes
  • Physical exercise

The Gazette says, “Studies definitively show that stress management and a positive attitude improve outcomes for those diagnosed with major illnesses… City firefighters also say their awareness is raised about how stress might be affecting their professional and private lives.”

Proactive changes are happening to help ease stress among stations. In one PA district, a computerized system has been developed to more quickly send only the information relevant to respective firehouses. And instead of loud, screeching alarms, the sound is more of a “calming hum that gradually gets louder.”

What are some ways you handle stress? Weigh in at