There are few professions more stressful and heroic than wildland firefighting. Every fire season, these amazing individuals risk their lives to save entire towns from destruction. But all that heroism carries a heavy toll. Every day, wildland firefighters struggle with stress and anxiety. To ensure they can remain healthy, happy members of society, here are some ways how wildland firefighters should manage their stress.
It is important to know the prevalence of emotional stress and trauma in wildland firefighting. While on the job, firefighters will see and face some of the most dangerous experiences of their lives. Firefighters should know what events could trigger stress. These include:
- A Loss Injury: Stress felt due to losing cherished people or parts of oneself.
- A Life Threat: Stress incurred because of death-provoking terror, helplessness, or horror.
- A Moral Injury: Stress felt because of bearing witness to or participating in behaviors that violate one’s moral values.
- Cumulative Stress: Feelings of stress provoked by multiple sources over time.
Signs of Stress
Wildland firefighters should look for signs of stress in themselves and their colleagues. Everyone processes stress differently, but some common signs that someone feels overwhelmed include:
- Reckless attitudes and behaviors.
- General changes in behavior (isolating, increased use of substances, or not talking).
- Unsettling feelings (anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, shame, or guilt).
- Mentions or thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Mitigation and Action
There are ways how wildland firefighters should manage their stress, both for themselves and their colleagues. The first step is to eliminate the stigma behind negative emotions. Firefighters should talk about their feelings openly and honestly. Only by identifying a problem can they fix it.
There are several tactics a wildland firefighter can employ when feeling stressed. To center themselves, they can:
- Identify the cause of distress.
- Breathe calmly.
- Reach out to peers, family, or mental health professionals for support.
Wildland firefighters are some of the greatest heroes of the modern era. When unruly fires threaten entire towns, they risk their lives to save many more. With that responsibility comes enormous stress and anxiety. But hopefully, firefighters experiencing stress can find some help from this article.