Stress Management for Firefighters

Courtesy of American Addiction Centers

July marks Social Wellness Month, which was created to raise awareness about the importance of living healthier – mind, body, and spirit. Stress management is a key aspect of social wellness and is especially crucial for those with high-stress occupations, like firefighters and other public safety professionals.

Stress is related to external and internal factors. External factors can be occupation, relationships, physical environment, and all other challenges that confront us on a daily basis. The firefighter’s world is one of daily stresses, traumas, and physical/mental distress – not to mention the stresses of life outside of work. And firefighters are so enveloped in their work that the job can become a way of life.

While the fellowship of firefighters is strong as steel, the emotional wear-and-tear can lead to psychological damage. We continue to see that cases of PTSD and other behavioral health conditions are common within the service.

Firefighters normally don't discuss their true emotions. Some will go to the gym, which helps both mentally and physically, some may read – but in the volunteer fire service, which has over 750,000 members nationwide, most simply continue on with their day without addressing how they feel.

Mike Healy, addiction specialist, former chief fire instructor, and close friend of American Addiction Centers, says, “In my experience, very rarely is it discussed how removing a fire victim or cutting an individual out of a wrecked automobile, makes them feel. Some simply cannot emotionally handle what they deal with on a daily basis. I knew one volunteer who had to assist with CPR on a two-year-old boy who was ejected from a rollover incident, and never returned to the fire department.”

Some firefighters may turn to drugs and alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors, as a stress management tool. There are countless reasons why this fails in the long run (though it may feel like temporary relief). The most important thing a firefighter can do is to keep an eye on his brothers and sisters to see if they’re okay. Have they stopped communicating? Do they look distracted or unfocused? Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD) may also be needed.

Stress reduction strategies are essential in order to maintain non-addictive behaviors. The key to productively cope with stress is by understanding and recognizing it, and using necessary tools to regulate stress and create balance.

All firefighters suffer from some level of stress, and each must find their healthy way of coping.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with stress, please call the National Fire Service Member Assistance Program at 1-888-731-FIRE (3473). Your call is confidential. Help is just a phone call away.