A Few of the Greatest Firefighter Challenges

A Few of the Greatest Firefighter Challenges

Monday, 10 July 2023 15:22

Each year, millions of acres of our wildlands go up in flames. Not only do these loose fires threaten the natural environment, but with the growing wildland-urban interface, increased numbers of homes and businesses are also consumed.

We have a very dedicated and well-trained cadre of professional wildland and urban fire crews, plus a multitude of volunteer firemen that place themselves in harm's way every year to protect our natural resources, homes, businesses, and lives. Within this number, the United States has approximately 20,000 paid wildland firefighters.

The professionals at Streetwise® work with fire crews all across the country with emergency training, logistical support, and computer software, and understand the inherent danger firefighters have to work through.

Although all aspects of fire fighting can be very dangerous and can create long-term emotional and physical health problems long after the last fire is put out to our firefighters, this article will discuss those major issues challenging wildland firefighters primarily.

Some of the Greatest Firefighter Challenges

Fighting wildfires is a physically exhausting and risky job that requires extended time away from home and regular confrontations with hazardous situations.

Many wildland firefighters are seasonally employed, working for six or so months a year. Depending on their positions, they may work 16 hours a day, up to 14 days at a time, with two mandatory days off between “rolls” (their term for those two-week shifts). 

Sometimes, calls come in so quickly that firefighters don’t have time to kiss their spouses or children goodbye. Sometimes they fight fires and watch houses burn in their own communities.

These firefighters rely on 1,000 hours or more of overtime and hazard pay to cover their bills throughout the year. Some sleep in their cars during the season because housing is too expensive in the areas where they work. 

Mental Stress and Disorders Are a Growing Challenge to Firefighters

The steady accumulation of mental strains, including financial stress, a demanding work environment, isolation from loved ones, and the pressure to manage public expectations, creates the perfect storm for mental health problems to emerge.

Also, mental struggles can become more acute in the offseason, when firefighters lose their connections to their crews and transition from rigorous schedules to quieter lives.

Multiple national studies show that wildland firefighters are at elevated risk  over the general population for:

  • Risk of depression
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts

Thankfully there is growing work within government and fire agencies to provide much-needed assistance to the wildland fire community to combat this growing mental health crisis, but there are steps that the firefighters themselves can take day to day to minimize the elevated risks.

Steps to Reduce Emotional and Physical Challenges to Firefighters

Firefighters must take proactive steps to minimize the mental and physical impacts of firefighting. The more aware you are of your needs,  the more you can take action toward keeping yourself healthy. During a busy fire season, when you work sixteen-hour days in stressful situations, it is very easy to forget to practice these steps; however, it is important that you do so, even during these busy times.

When you do get time off from work, it is even more important that you practice these steps regularly.  

Here are ten tips that act as a baseline for both mental and physical health.

  1. Prioritize sleep: Getting enough rest is crucial for mental health. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. A 15-20 minute nap can really help if you need extra rest. Active recovery, like meditation and yoga, can help improve sleep.
  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It can help reduce stress and anxiety. Try incorporating mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation into your daily routine.
  3. Stay physically active: Exercise is a great way to boost mood and reduce stress. Find a physical activity you enjoy and make it a part of your routine. Simple but effective options like a 30-minute walk can help to clear your head, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and have a positive effect on resting heart rate and heart rate variability.
  4. Connect with others: Social connections can improve mental health. Make time to connect with family and friends, whether it’s through phone calls, video chats, or in-person interactions. Find activities you enjoy and invite a friend along. It’s important to find joy in these connections. 
  5. Take breaks: It’s important to take breaks throughout the day to prevent burnout. Schedule short breaks throughout the day to recharge. Make a cup of tea, read something uplifting, write in a journal, sit quietly, and focus on your breathing.
  6. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your struggles and treating yourself with the same kindness you would offer a friend.
  7. Set boundaries: Setting boundaries is important for protecting your mental health. Learn to say no to commitments that are not essential and prioritize your own needs.
  8. Seek support: It’s okay to seek support when you need it. Reach out to a mental health professional, coach, friend (who is emotionally available), or support group for help.
  9. Engage in activities you enjoy: Take time to engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy. Doing things you love can boost mood and improve mental well-being.
  10. Take care of your physical health: Physical health and mental health are closely linked. Make sure to take care of your physical health by eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated. Consult a physician if you have questions about your physical health.

StreetWise®: A Public Safety Information Services Company

StreetWise is a public safety information services company located in Mooresville, North Carolina. President Philip Kouwe has been active in the fire and emergency services field for 35+ years. StreetWise is an elite group of progressive, like-minded investors, managers, technical developers, and advisors that form the parent company, Hangar 14 Solutions, LLC.

It is their close and ongoing career experience with public safety that led to the development of this project concept. Hangar 14 Solutions has identified firsthand the gap in getting critical response information into the hands of emergency personnel.

Hangar 14 Solutions is developing software applications for public safety that will focus on the burgeoning tablet computer hardware platform. 

As a company, Hangar 14 Solutions believes that mobile computing technology, particularly inexpensive tablet computers, and cellular broadband, have opened up new possibilities for providing emergency incident information and stored pre-incident response data to emergency responders in the field.

If you would like more information on the services offered by StreetWise, check out our website at  StreetWise