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What are the most challenging aspects of being a firefighter?

I know if I were to become a firefighter, I would be faced with many challenges. Specifically at emergencies, do you ever leave the scene with trauma or bad memories?

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Ryan’s Answer

Hello Sammie,

You're correct, you will face many challenges and what those challenges are vary from person to person. For example, overcoming a fear of heights may be a challenge for one person, but no concern at all for another. Based on your question, I'm guessing you're particularly concerned about some of the emotional challenges you may face.

The short answer is yes, unfortunately you will experience traumatic events. It's not a question of if, but when. Just like my fear of heights example, some firefighters are more impacted by traumatic events than others. As a firefighter, you'll be 2-4x as likely to develop post traumatic stress (PTS) within your lifetime than a normal person.

But, it's not all doom and gloom. First of all, only about 7% of normal people experience PTS - which means that somewhere between 1 in 6 and 1 in 3 firefighters will develop PTS - which is way less than half. So most firefighters will never be diagnosed with PTS. Another good thing is that both research and social acceptance of PTS has improved dramatically in the last 50-years. 50-years ago you may have been told to "get over it" or "suck it up" if you were having issues, but that is much less likely today. Many fire departments actually take proactive steps to address it, such as conducting defusings or critical incident stress debriefings after traumatic incidents and providing peer support and/or other wellness initiatives.

Lastly, you should be aware of something called post traumatic growth (PTG). Unlike PTS or "PTSD", PTG can result from exposure to traumatic incidents as well. It's largely a matter of mindset. For example, I experienced my first traumatic event as a Fire Explorer when I was 17. We responded to a ~20-year female that intentionally overdosed on antidepressants, and we performed CPR for around 45-minutes. It was my first time doing CPR and the first time I saw someone pronounced dead. I had several symptoms of "PTSD" in the weeks that followed, but I was able to frame the event in a positive way; overnight I completely overcame many of the emotional problems I faced in my teenage years because I realized that in reality there was nothing romantic about self harm. I walked away from the trauma a better and stronger person because of it. That's PTG.

I hope my response provided the insight you were looking for. I've been in public safety for 17-years, and first responder mental health is a huge passion of mine. So much so that I have a Masters of Arts degree in Crisis Response and Trauma Counseling, and I am the founding Peer Support Team Coordinator for my fire department. If you have any more questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'm happy to help!
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Joan’s Answer

Hello Sammie,

The role of a firefighter is both challenging and fulfilling, demanding courage, physical power, and mental resilience.

Here are some of the hurdles you might face as a firefighter:

1. Experiencing the distress and destruction of people and their properties during emergencies.
2. Operating in hazardous conditions that may lead to burns, smoke inhalation, crushing injuries, heat exhaustion, and chronic illnesses.
3. Sometimes working extended shifts and overtime, which can interfere with your sleep pattern and family time.
4. Extensive training periods and the continual acquisition of new skills and techniques.
5. Coping with mental and physical exhaustion due to stress, trauma, and demanding circumstances.

As a firefighter, you'll need to react swiftly to fires and medical emergencies. This job requires physical endurance to climb ladders, haul hoses, force open doors, operate pumps, set up hydraulic jacks, and open fire hydrants. Additionally, firefighters often support police in search and rescue missions.

I trust this information will assist you in making your decision about becoming a firefighter.

Wishing you the best!
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