The Underreported Epidemic Of Firefighter Suicide

Every now and then you come across a story that cries out for more recognition.  I recently had that feeling when I began to read more about the epidemic of firefighter suicides, which is part of the larger problem of untreated firefighter PTSD and depression nationwide.  Like many traditionally masculine professions, firefighters and their health problems do not get the same level of attention from the media that is devoted to female, child, and reproductive health issues.

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4 thoughts on “The Underreported Epidemic Of Firefighter Suicide

  1. Such a shame. It’s strange how trivial matters are praised but the important ones are not even recognised.

    I am lucky to know a lot of servicemen whether it be police, army or firemen. I can honestly say that I probably would not be able to do some of things they have been through, therefore they have my utmost respect. Unfortunately they tell me it’s rare nowadays for any sort of respect to be shown for them, especially from a runt like me.

    It used to be that such servicemen were seen as community role models. How times have changed.

    (I haven’t visited in a while but as of right now I am putting some of that money to good use for more philanthropic pursuits like STEM scholarships. I would say a lot more sure of my “purpose” in life. As always keep up the good work Q.)

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  2. Former volunteer FIREMAN able to weigh in on the situation of burnout and suicide. First-off, it’s not necessarily about the stress from seeing death, carnage, or being exposed to highly dangerous environments; those are the elements of firefighting that are invigorating for any good firefighter. Firefighting, much like every other job these days requires a tremendous amount of training. If you are serious about becoming a paid firefighter you need to accept that you will need to serve what amounts to an unpaid apprenticeship as a volunteer firefighter. Sure, you can go the community college route and pay for a fire academy, but unless you are catching a rig and going on calls you aren’t gaining any real actionable experience. Now, these days you aren’t going to go on many actual house fires, in 3 years I only went on 1. But, I went on constant medical calls and lift assists, which leads me to another point. Medical training, at bare minimum you will need to become an EMT, and that expense will be around $2,500 out-of-pocket. This expenditure, speaking from this experience as a young dude who drove a $2000 dollar car can feel insurmountable. However, some volunteer departments will pick up the tab provided you spend an extra 2 years with them (all unpaid of course).

    For brevity’s sake let me put it this way, by the time you have enough credentials to start testing for paid departments you are going to be about 2 years in. During those 2 years you will be working and training for a job that doesn’t actually pay very well. I’ve seen seen job postings for small towns in Oklahoma or Texas for Firefighter-Paramedics starting at $36,000. In my neck of the woods the highly, highly coveted place to work is West Met (West Metro Fire Rescue) and those dudes probably knock down around $80,000 a year. However, you have to be a medic in order to apply and P school is going to require at least 1 year field experience as an EMT in addition to the 2 years it will take to complete the course.

    Now, here comes the shocker! Firefighting – at it’s core – is quite similar to construction and other blue collar labor. Seriously, if you want to become a firefighter get used to the smell of diesel exhaust fumes because you’ll be around them and other exhaust fumes constantly. You will be around dirt, smoke, dust, and other forms of filth you couldn’t conjure in your wildest dreams. You will be constantly exposed to carcinogens that are starting to take the lives of firefighters at an epidemic level that makes this epidemic of suicides look laughable in comparison. In fact, the HazMat instructor for my fire academy was just recovering from a particularly nasty bout of thyroid cancer while he was teaching our course and drilled into our minds “wash your bunkers!” Even more poignant, while I was a newly minted firefighter, a former member who had recently left my department and had got on with a paid department was diagnosed with cancer. His story however ended sadly, he died after unsuccessful chemo within a few months of diagnosis.

    Firefighting used to be the kind of job that guys could get right out of high school if they were fairly strong and good with machines. The kind of job that guys whose parents couldn’t afford to help them out with college but were intelligent and had the “adrenaline junkie but don’t want to go into the service” mentality. Firefighters were FIREMEN and didn’t have to make cumbersome adjustments to the terminology of their profession. Firefighters used to be mostly Irish and Italian, and had time honored traditions of pussy jokes racist jokes and in-appropriately heavy drinking at social functions. I have heard the legends told of those hilarious halcyon days and have turned my department shirt inside out on a number of occasions so I could contribute a good drinking story. But, ultimately that way of firefighting is all but dead.

    Firefighting is now being infiltrated by the useless college degree and HR “we’re all members of the human race” mentality inherent to so many professions. Firefighting is one of the last bastions of true male supremacy, many firefighters are bodybuilders, most are weightlifters, some are even runners or triathletes. Most didn’t get into this line of work for sensitivity training and being told a woman who struggles to carry just themself and a radio is basically interchangable with them. This breakdown of esprit de corps undermines male camaraderie, it could even be contributing to the suicides.

    Firefighting is a dirty, dangerous, unglamorous job. At the end of the day most guys just want a nice new truck, a hot wife, and a shot of adrenaline from hearing that tone go off and lifting heavy bullshit onto their shoulder until their body gives out and they can’t do it anymore. They want to be a man in a world that doesn’t care much about men.

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