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What firefighters should know about PTSD

Firefighters risk their lives day in and day out to put out dangerous fires and protect those in need. To a firefighter, a potentially deadly blaze is merely another day at work. When people talk about firefighters, many discuss bravery, sacrifice and work ethic. Very few people ever mention workplace injury, mental illness or disability.

These little-discussed issues plague many firefighters every day in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a risk that many firefighters encounter, but very few people discuss.

The symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition that is usually brought on by a traumatic experience. For firefighters, this may be a particularly dangerous fire, witnessing other people’s injuries or a situation in which they feared that they might die. The symptoms of PTSD, which can manifest anywhere from one month to several years after the event, include:

  • Intrusive traumatic memories
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Negative moods
  • Changes in physical or emotional reactions
  • Hypervigilance

PTSD and firefighters

The frequency of PTSD in firefighters is so high that it is comparable to that of combat veterans. One study conducted by the Houston Fire Department found a PTSD rate of 12.6 percent among its force; the rate for Vietnam veterans is 15.2 percent. The national average is 6.8 percent.

Firefighters who have incurred PTSD do have options available to them. Sometimes, PTSD can be considered a workplace injury. When someone is injured on the job, they may be entitled to compensation such as mental health services, medical bills and missed wages. To acquire resources to help their PTSD, some firefighters choose to file a workers’ compensation claim or work with an attorney. Firefighters risk their own lives to protect other people; they deserve compensation and treatment for PTSD and other injuries.

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