Reflecting on mental health (Part 2 of 2)

The concept of "Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (L.C.E.S.)" is familiar to wildland firefighters, and one that can be adapted to support each other on the job and off-duty. (Graphic courtesy the National Interagency Fire Center)


Wildland firefighters are in the category of professionals considered first responders. We work in dangerous environments and crisis situations. It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop mental health concerns like depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is 10% higher than the general population. In a 2016 study published in the Clinical Psychology Review, firefighters were reported to have higher attempted and suicide ideation rates than the general population.

While much of the mental health research on first responders does not include wildland firefighters, there are resources available to help:

  1. Fire seasons are getting longer. Firefighter exposure to extreme events such as firefighter and civilian fatalities increases and recovery time decreases. Resources to talk, understand, and cope with traumatic events are available to federal wildland firefighters through employee assistance programs and organizations like the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.
  2. The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center dedicated their spring 2017 newsletter to the topic of suicide in wildland fire. It takes a look at the culture and stigma around mental health for wildland fire fighters.
  3. This year the National Wildfire Coordinating Group established the Mental Health Subcommittee to proactively identify and address the mental health of firefighters.

The stigma around asking for help remains a barrier for many. What can you do as an individual to support the wildland firefighting community?  Move the conversation forward and increase mental health awareness. One way to make hard conversations easier is to put it in relatable terms. The National Interagency Fire Center shared a great graphic (shown above) that highlights what we can do as individuals and firefighters to support each other throughout the year. The concept of “Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (L.C.E.S.)" is one that is familiar to all wildland firefighters.

There are more resources for first responders, including wildland firefighters, at the First Responder Center for Excellence.

Katy O’Hara is the Partnership Program Lead for the Office of Wildland Fire. Katy also serves as a Public Information Officer with the Pacific Northwest Type 1 Incident Management Teams and is an active member of the Navy Reserve.