PTSD Affects Firefighters Too

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The rate of PTSD among firefighters are similar to those of battle veterans, with an estimated 20% of firefighters suffering from the condition, new research reports.

The International Association of Firefighters has put together studies on suicide, substance abuse, and others post-traumatic stress issues, and were able to determine that these rates were close to those of combat veterans. The association is now putting post-traumatic stress on the list of firefighting occupational hazards.

The results of the study come as no surprise given the highly stressful work environment firefighters enter. For example, a burned out apartment building last week turned out to contain the body of a child who had been severely neglected and left to perish in the fire. Chicago firefighters made the discovery, WGNTV reports. In Maryland, an explosion started a fire, and first responders saw people jumping out of apartment buildings, while others waited to be rescued.

Facing situations like these far too often takes a toll on even the hardiest firefighter. Daniel DeGryse, Battalion 1 Chief at the Chicago Fire Department, says, “You couldn’t even imagine what goes on behind my eyes because [of] the things we see, and it has an effect on us.”

Dan Robertson, president of Oakland Firefighter’s Union, says firefighters need to have additional counseling sessions in their health plans and told KCBS that a change of culture in his department might encourage firefighters to attend these sessions.

Robertson adds that they’ve “done a good job” at taking a good, hard look at these issues, and what steps they have to take to address these problems. He says,

It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that you need to do that.

The union also voted at a conference held in San Francisco to put more funding into cancer research for firefighters. A federal study of cancer rates among firefighters came out in 2013, reporting that chemicals are not only inhaled but absorbed through the skin and sweat glands, increasing firefighters’ chances of contracting cancer.

Since the report came out, the San Francisco Fire Department says it has made changes in its operations, including finding ways to decontaminate more efficiently after a fire.

So far, only one state — Oregon — has presumptive laws on firefighters, meaning the state officially acknowledges PTSD as a job-related condition.

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