Rising concern for firefighter mental health

Tragedy tops daily news broadcasts, be it car accidents, fires, or other incidents. But did you ever consider the toll it takes on those responding to help?

"We always say 'this seems to happen in big cities and bigger departments,' but the truth is it can happen to us, and that's why we train as hard as we train and do the things that we do because it can happen here," Chief Darrell White of Presque Isle Fire Department, said.

Recent training, held at the Presque Isle Fire Department, included discussion of firefighter survivability, self-rescue, and especially mental health concerns - a huge problem experienced by volunteers and full-time members across the nation.

"The critical things that they see - they're basically in combat in an urban environment, and they see some horrible things that human beings aren't meant to see," Richard Wark, fire instructor for the Maine Fire Service Institute, said.

Richard Wark, fire instructor with the Maine Fire Service Institute, says it's important to teach firefighters how to take care of their mental health, as well as their physical health, to be able to be fit for duty and still have a productive life.

'Most of these folks are not doing this for a career. They have a regular job. They come in and do this on on-call basis," Wark said.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common in the profession. Wark says more needs to be done to assist those experiencing it.

"We just watched a video in class about PTSD and critical incident stress management. There's some folks in the fire service, unfortunately, that think they're 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and they tell their people that they should be, to suck it up, when in reality they're still human beings. And if we don't talk about this - nobody talks about the elephant in the room. There's firefighters killing themselves - committing suicide because of what they've seen - not their personal life, they're committing suicide because of their job. That's the sad reality," Wark said.

Training enables firefighters to talk about situations with others who've experienced similar circumstances. Wark says if you or a loved one are experiencing issues as the result of an emergency, let someone know, be it a loved one, health care provider or clergy.