Behavioral health is a subject not often talked about in the fire service, but it affects every department and emergency responder in some way or other. The NVFC, through its Share the Load™ Support Program, has developed a series of resources to help educate and train first responders about the importance of behavioral health and provide resources, tips, and tools to help departments, first responders, and families address these issues.
You might remember, not too long ago when carbon monoxide devices first came into existence, that they would activate on high concentration of CO. They would also activate once a series of low concentrations over a long period of time had finally reached a threshold for activation. In either event we would respond, determine which appliance caused the CO alarm to activate, and then have the home owner take the CO device outside to fresh air clear the unit and bring it back inside.
This may be one analogy and perhaps a poor one at best, but if you look at the effect of stressful or traumatic events on a fire fighter the cumulative effects will cause the fire fighter to signal a response, similar to that of a CO alarm activation. It may be that all that is needed is to reset--seek a cleaner environment much the same way we reset a CO device and put it back in service.
There will be times when a fire fighter will come to the end and it will be too late. It may be only one incident or a series of events. Indicators may be related to physical and mental reactions that are not typical to that individual. Some indicators will be short term and others will be long in duration. For any of us it could be detrimental causing health issues and/or suicide.
The National Volunteers Firefighters Council has established links to their behavioral health resources, including a link for the Share the Load initiative. Please take the opportunity to review the website and become aware of the factors and how you might save a fire fighter’s life.