Being a firefighter has never been easy and it’s always been dangerous but, over the years, it’s gotten worse and worse for those in California. As the frequency and severity of wildfires have increased, so too has the workload on firefighters and the accompanying mental health issues created.
Too much death and injury
According to reports, 54 California firefighters have died in the line of duty since 2006. Many more have been injured or watched their friends and co-coworkers suffer or die. This has led to an alarming rise in those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal ideation.
Fire seasons have become longer and more intense. The fires themselves have become larger and there simply aren’t enough firefighters to cover the state’s needs. Firefighters spend more time on the front lines and less time recuperating. While they’re fighting, the risk of death is ever present.
Cal Fire began a behavioral health program in 1999, but it has been slow to come to grips with the emerging mental health crisis. It primarily works as a reactive option, addressing only the needs of those who seek out help.
Many of those who do come forward, about the mental health issues they face, find it difficult to receive the care they need or the workers’ compensation benefits they should be getting. Too often, they’re left to heal as best they can by themselves or not at all. Anger, frustration and despair become a constant companion as they’re sent, once again, back to the line – to fight yet another fire raging outside, rather than the one building within them.