It could be another rough fire season for the Southwest. With droughts evident in Arizona and parts of California, fire departments and other EMS workers are readying for a busy schedule. Although it’s the nature of the job, what firefighters and paramedics witness while at work is taxing on the mind, jarring on the emotions and can remain forever in their hearts. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder “PTSD” is the repercussion from life-altering events that happen to fire service professionals. As people outside of the industry, we may not be able to stop the occurrence of PTSD but there are practices we can put into play to help minimize the instances of wildfires. For loved ones of those who work on the front lines, there are also visible signs of the disorder to watch for. It’s fire season, and first responders could use some extra compassion in and how to detect PTSD.

The Adrenaline Rush that Never Goes Away

During any number of calls answered by a team of emergency-response professionals, the body and the brain work together instantaneously from the moment the buzzer goes off in the squad room. Every firefighter experiences the onset of the human fight-or-flight response. It’s the natural, built-in mechanism to handle stress. With it, a surge of adrenaline is released providing us heightened abilities in mental acuity and physical strength allowing us to better handle traumatic circumstances.

Over time and with multiple traumatic events, the normal course of a firefighter or EMS worker, it takes a toll on mental and emotional wellbeing. Without ongoing therapy or other means of healthy communication after these traumas take place, first responders are often left to dwell in their own thoughts that never leave. With no healthy outlet, the internal stress escalates. In addition to the development of PTSD other conditions may arise as a result. Oftentimes, victims of PTSD will defer to substance abuse to help drown the emotional pain. Other anxiety or depressive disorders can also be present with PTSD. Unfortunately, PTSD exists in firefighters long before the signs are evident to the rest of us.

People Can Help Minimize PTSD Risk

Fire season in Arizona doesn’t usually start until the spring. But this year, Governor Doug Ducey announced an early warning for the state, citing low rainfall levels as a concern. It’s an indication of what could come across the deserts and pine forests due to the extremely dry conditions and the increased risk for wildfires, putting first responders in harm’s way.

In addition to asking the state for additional funding for fire prevention, Ducey wants everyone to exercise caution in how they enjoy recreational activities throughout the coming seasons.

How to Help Firefighters During Fire Season

While some fires are brought on by Mother Nature, I don’t believe she lit the campfire and roasted marshmellows at sunset. Before you head out to any of our camping sites, parks and national forests, own responsibility for keeping our state beautiful.

Safety Tips for Fire Season:

  • Move flammable items away from your property
  • Trim property landscape and remove parts that are dead or dry (trees, shrubs, grass)
  • Secure towing chains in truck beds so they don’t drag on asphalt
  • Put out campfires completely before leaving the campgrounds
  • Don’t discard lit cigarettes out of a moving vehicle or on dry land
  • Use us for current fire and safety guidelines

What to Do If You Suspect Your Partner Has PTSD

PTSD doesn’t just affect the person suffering with the disorder, it affects family member as well. It’s difficult to navigate through lengthy and awkward silences, inattentiveness or inappropriate outbursts. These are all some of the signs of PTSD. But there are more subtle indications that PTSD is brewing in your loved one.

In a nutshell, first responders will act out PTSD through no communication at all – literally. If he or she seems to have emotionally shutdown or returns from work, choosing to exist like a social outcast and this happens on a consistent basis, the need for help is real.

Here is a more detailed list of PTSD Signs:

  • Lack of interest or inability in doing activities once enjoyed
  • More often than not on hyperalert or overly stressed
  • Irrational outbursts to non-stressful events or conversations
  • Non-communicative, silent for hours on end
  • Paranoid, anxious or depressed
  • Change in sex life (overly sexual or not at all)


Help for Firefighters and First Responders for PTSD

First Responders and PTSDOne of the best ways for a firefighter or EMS worker to get the stress relief and comfort needed to get past some of what is seen and experienced during wildfire season is to talk with a coworker who knows exactly what he or she is going through. There are also Action Reviews conducted by fire department and crews after working a fire meant to help team members talk about the trauma associated with the time spent on the scene, though not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions in this type of setting.

There are industry-specific programs and treatment facilities that specialize in medical and holistic therapies for PTSD. Behavioral health methodologies known to assist in the recovery from PTSD include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing

If your father, mother, sister, brother or partner are exhibiting the signs of PTSD, getting them in front of medical professionals for a health assessment sooner than later are crucial to their emotional wellbeing – and yours.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 602-346-9142.

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