Our firefighters are calling for help. In an unprecedented effort for its scope, the NBC 4 I-Team has partnered with the International Association of Fire Fighters to send anonymous surveys to thousands of firefighters around the country. The 7,000 responses paint a picture of a culture still trying to cope with mental health and PTSD in what can be a job filled with tragedy.
Read the entire survey results here.
Closer to home, many of our tri-state firefighters are hurting, too. More than 95 percent of local firefighters surveyed said they had experienced 'critical stress' on the job. For some the stress has led to haunting memories, and worse. Scroll below to read 10 of the most heartbreaking findings from
738 firefighters from the tri-state responded to our anonymous survey about their mental health, and the services they have available to them. This is what we found.
By the very nature of the job, firefighters have to compartmentalize, they have to set aside the emotions of the moment to confront the emergency at hand. We found the majority of tri-state firefighters believed the stressful experiences they had been through in their jobs had caused them underlying or unresolved emotional issues.
Of those issues, sleeplessness and recurring or unwanted memories of events were some of the most frequently experienced. Many reported becoming easily angered or withdrawn, and most told us that the stressful experiences had caused them to have relationship or family problems.
Tragically, 26 percent of our firefighters said the stress of the job had led to substance abuse, and 16 percent said they'd had thoughts of suicide.
More than 85 percent of firefighters surveyed said there was a stigma that stopped them from getting help.
But what causes that stigma? A huge number of our firefighters were worried that talking about what was going on would make them look weak, or unfit for duty. Others were worried that others in the job would judge them, or wouldn't trust them in the field.
Jacques Roy is a textbook fighter. Physically fit, he is a captain with many years under his belt serving the city of Stamford, Connecticut, where he grew up. But what happened on Christmas Day, 2011, got to him. A merciless fire broke out at the home of a family, and ended up claiming the lives of two 7-year-old twins, their 9-year-old sister and their maternal grandparents. Captain Roy still speaks haltingly about that day, and is only able to do so after getting the counseling he needed from a trauma specialist.
We found that, while many tri-state firefighters know that there are resources available to them, many don't use them. And those who do don't necessarily find it helpful.
What our tri-state firefighters did find overwhelmingly helpful was talking to fellow firefighters about what they'd been through. The only problem is that only 35 percent had ever spoken to their peers about the stress they're enduring.
Firefighters told us they think there should be more behavioral health services available to them, and that there isn't enough recognition that these services are important.
But awareness could help and firefighters have hope. A great majority of tri-state firefighters agree that greater awareness about behavioral health and post-traumatic stress in the service will lead to improved services to address the issues that many of them are facing, silently.