The toll firefighting takes on mental health

Bay Area

NAPA, Calif. (KRON) – In California, unfortunately, wildfire season is no longer a season… it’s year-round.

I caught up with the Napa Fire Department to see how they deal with the emotional stresses of fighting a wildfire, especially in their own backyard.

“There’s no stigma anymore. It’s out there that mental health is the number one priority right now, especially for first responders, because we are going out there in situations that are extremely dangerous, they are hot, and we are not going be seeing our family for 14-21 days at a time.”

Fire departments used to mainly stay within city or county limits, but nowadays, firefighters respond to fires all across the state to provide aid.

“Fire doesn’t stop at county lines, so the mutual aid system knows no boundaries. Anywhere there is a fire, we get called to it.”

This forces fire crews to be away from their families even longer.

But when a wildfire sparks within their own county, it’s just as hard, if not harder.

“Especially if you live in the county that’s burning. We have firefighters who live in Napa County, so when they are out on a strike team it’s very difficult. They might not be able to have a line of communication with their family. You don’t always know what’s happening with the city and your family because you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

To help firefighters deal with all this stress and pressure, a peer support program has been created within the Napa Fire Department.

“With trained personnel that we can reach out to and talk to. Also, if we notice someone is having a bad day or they were just on a rough call, they will automatically reach out and begin discussing with them, ‘hey let’s talk about it, what’s going on?'”

There are also mental and psychological trainings to help firefighters deal with all the devastation they see.

“Being able to overcome those psychological things, like wow we did everything to try and save that… hours trying to prep it and save it and we lost it. That’s someone’s home, their livelihoods, their businesses.”

It takes a certain type of person to walk into the flames instead of fleeing from them.

But as heroic as their efforts are, it’s only human to need help.

“I know personally, our members get tired. I know we are here to do a job. I know some people look at us like we are superheroes. What I try to remind people is…we are just humans.”

As everyone in the Bay Area and across California braces for the next big wildfire, remember how important it is to prepare your home and have a defensive space so when firefighters are out there, it makes their jobs a little easier.

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