to the editor l e t t e r s
A FIREFIGHTER’S MENTAL SIZE-UP
I’m sure this topic will cause a lot of debate and will have people in an uproar, but I
want to discuss the elephant in the room: mental health.
On the fireground, we know we need a
strong size-up for an effective initial fireground operation. However, we don’t
take this same approach to our firefighters and their operational readiness. We
can focus on training and having the
best equipment possible, but if we are
not mentally healthy, we will lose some
of our effectiveness. Firefighter suicides
are just now really coming to the forefront, and it’s hard to believe that we, as
a fire service, are so set in our ways and
traditions that we are still rather dismissive about the mental health subject.
“We’ve done it this way for hundreds
of years”; “That’s not how the old guys
did it”; and “Maybe you are not tough
enough” are statements we have heard
around the station. We have such a ma-cho persona that we don’t want to allow
anyone to see our vulnerability.
If we are just now focusing on firefighter mental health and the alarming number of firefighter suicides each year, how
many unfortunate incidents have happened before we began to pay attention?
How many incidents have we “covered
up” so as not to tarnish the reputation
or for benefits? If we are not mentally
healthy, how do we ensure we are mak-
ing the best decisions and are not taking
I’m not talking about your average distractions. I’m talking about the distractions on which we focus so much energy and typically hide from others. You
know—post-traumatic stress disorder,
depression, suicidal thoughts, anger issues, nightmares, drinking, and drug use.
The first priority for any firefighter is life
safety. When will we make it our priority
on and OFF the fireground? If we are not
mentally healthy, we take unnecessary
risks, push too hard, push too far, and
convince ourselves we are broken and
can’t be fixed.
We must realize that the skeletons in
our closet affect our effectiveness. It is
time for the American fire service to be
proactive rather than reactive. There is a