A recent NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation found high job stress and depression/anxiety symptoms among firefighters at a municipal fire department. Impacted by the opioid epidemic and layoffs, this department responded to 1,000 more calls in 2016 than in 2011.
Thirteen percent of the participating firefighters screened positive for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). NIOSH recommended training on suicide prevention, psychological first aid, and stress recognition, as well as training on opioid overdose response and additions to the bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan.
According to NIOSH, over 33,000 opioid overdose deaths occurred in 2015. This is part of a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a more recent surge in deaths from illicit opioids.
During this epidemic, firefighters face new challenges such as administering naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioids, and increased call volumes, which might lead to a “personal toll” on responders.
The United States depends on about 1.1 million firefighters to protect its citizens and property from fire. Approximately 336,000 are career firefighters, 812,000 are volunteers, and 80 to 100 die in the line of duty each year.
Jules Griggs, Editor-in-Chief, SUN News, and CEO of our parent company, Safety Unlimited, Inc., offering OSHA-compliant safety training, is a retired fire captain with the VCFD. He says on the subject, “There were certainly times in my career, especially when having dealt with trauma or death in infants or children, that critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) was needed and very beneficial for me. Since my retirement 6 years ago, I have discovered there was much more stress I was carrying when I was on the job. I only know this now, because of the amount of stress that was lifted from my shoulders on retirement. ”
Griggs added, “I think it is important, with all that is going on in the world, that we are looking at how PTSD impacts responders, in addition to those who serve in the military, since the responders are the ones who are on the front lines when events that rock our world occur.”
In a related story, Recovery Centers of America (RCA), a neighborhood-based addiction treatment provider delivering individualized, evidence-based care, announced the launch of a First Responders Program at the company’s facility in Devon. The program is designed to treat the specialized needs of law enforcement, firefighters, correctional officers, EMTs/paramedics and veterans grappling with drug and alcohol addiction.
Clare Seletsky, Director of the First Responders Program at Recovery Centers of America. “Research shows that first responders and veterans are at a significantly higher risk of developing substance abuse issues as a result of their constant physical strain and exposure to trauma.”
“In fact, according to the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation, approximately 85 percent of police officers who commit suicide are found to be under the influence of alcohol,” she continued. “First responders often suffer in silence for fear that the stigma of addiction will cost them their jobs. Our program allows them to get the treatment they need so that they can successfully return to work and helping others.”
The First Responders Program includes 20-plus hours of treatment and educational programming per week to address the unique needs of first responders and their families. The program, which is led by licensed clinicians and peer first responders, includes clinical therapy sessions to address treatment concerns and non-clinical activities and educational seminars, including private First Responder-only 12-Step meetings.