Forest fire season, which runs from June until October in Utah, can be a very busy and overwhelming time for firefighters. It is no secret that firefighters have a very stressful profession. They constantly find themselves in intense life or death situations that can affect their mental health. There are methods that firefighters can utilize to take care of their mental health throughout the year. These methods can be exceptionally useful during exceptionally stressful times, such as during Utah's Forest Fire Season.
Chateau Recovery recognizes the ongoing need in offering mental health services for first responders. For that reason, we offer a First Responders Resiliency Program for those in law enforcement, firefighters and dispatchers, paramedics and EMTs, both active-duty soldiers and veterans, as well as first responder family members. If an individual is a first responder and is struggling to maintain mental health, consider Chateau’s First Responder program today.
Mental Health Concerns Amongst First Responders
Data and research indicate a growing mental health concern among first responders. For example, alcohol use and other SUDs among police are approximated between 20 - 30%, while almost one out of every three veterans seeking treatment for SUD are also struggling with post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). Due to the high-stress nature of these professions, it should not come as a surprise that many in these fields are struggling with their mental health.
Work stress is common across many industries, but first responders and firefighters experience a particularly high level of stress. One study from the Open Access Journal for Life and Environmental Research focuses on observing stress among on-duty firefighters. The study monitored the cardiac signals of seventeen firefighters during an “average of three shifts within a working week.” The equipment used was able to allow for “continuous electrocardiography software application,” which could collect data on potentially stressful situations.
According to the findings, accidents were more stressful for firefighters. 42 events were reported during the study. Those events were divided into three categories: fires, pre-hospital assistance, and accidents. Accidents were the most stressful events, followed by pre-hospital assistance, with fires being last on the list.
One important concern raised by the study is that due to the stressful nature of firefighters’ routines, firefighters can not always recognize levels of stress. This impairs their ability to recognize signs of degrading mental health, preventing them from seeking help. More emphasis must be placed on improving the mental health of firefighters and first responders, not just during wildfire season, but all year.
What You Should Know About Utah’s Forest and Wildfire Season
As mentioned, being a firefighter is naturally a highly stressful profession. Unfortunately, that stress becomes even more intense during forest or wildfire season. In the United States, Utah is one of the most prone states to wildfires according to the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS). Utah’s wildfire season typically lasts from June until October. Over 20 years, the length of the wildfire season increased by six weeks. Approximately 800 to 1,000 wildfires occur every year in Utah. In 2018 alone, the state experienced 1,327 wildfires which were about $13.4 million worth of damage.
The DPS says that 688 of the 1,327 wildfires in 2018 were caused by people. Utah typically experiences three types of wildfires, including ground, surface, and crown or canopy fires. These fires ravage through the lands, native vegetation, and animal habitats. The fire itself is not all that is cause for concern, either. In addition to destroying man-made structures, these wildfires also increase the chance of “mudslides, erosion, and downstream sedimentation that can impact fish habitats and water chemistry,” according to the DPS.
Some of the worst fires occurred in Utah between 2005 and 2018. The worst occurred in 2007, destroying 363,052 acres of land. The second worst was not too long ago, occurring in 2018 and burning through 102,190 acres. Plans like Utah’s Catastrophic Wildfire Reduction Strategy hope to suppress wildfires by improving wildlife response. While initiatives like these focus to diminish the damage of wildfires, more need to be done for the firefighters who must respond to them.
There are steps others can take to try to prevent wildfires and forest fires from occurring. Some of those steps include:
Securing trailer chains so they do not drag and start a fire
Avoiding parking hot cars on dry grass
Maintaining trailers and RVs properly
Ensuring a fire is completely out before leaving a campsite or bonfire
Never leaving a fire unattended
These are just a few simple things individuals can do to reduce wildfires in Utah. Even the simplest of things may help the mental health of a firefighter.
How Firefighters Can Take Care of Their Mental Health
In addition to seeking treatment, there are many things firefighters can do to take care of their mental health, especially during Utah’s wildfire season. Many of these are simply holistic practices that can improve many areas of their lives. They include:
Making sure they are getting enough quality sleep
Maintaining nutrition and exercise – most firefighters already do this to continue their work, but outside exercise and activities can be particularly helpful in maintaining mental health
Having a support system. Whether it consists of family, friends, or other firefighters and first responder co-workers, being able to share their struggles is important
Seeing a therapist if they notice symptoms of anxiety, depression, or disorder developed from trauma like PTSD
Consider seeking a more intense level of treatment if symptoms become worse
Chateau Recovery offers treatment that is holistic, trauma-informed, and can help individuals maintain their mental health and wellness during wildfire season, as well as throughout the year. If a firefighter is struggling, particularly now during our wildfire season here in Utah, they should reach out to Chateau today.