2018 a year of wildfires, continued need for firefighter recovery strategies

Self-care, leaning on fellow firefighters and professional therapy help firefighters cope with the aftermath of wildfires, firefighter stress

By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety

News of massive wildfires, primarily in California, dominated media headlines in 2018. One of the most popular articles published on In Public Safety was a first-hand account by American Military University graduate Captain Peter Jensen of the Ventura County Fire Department, who was one of the first operational command staff to arrive at the scene of the Thomas Fire. Read his account of fighting that fire and how wildland firefighting has changed dramatically since he started his career more than 29 years ago. 

A few months after the Thomas Fire, I followed up with Captain Jensen to learn about the aftermath of fighting such a massive fire and recovering from such an overwhelming event. He and fellow firefighter Brian Heath talked candidly about the mental and physical exhaustion that comes from working long shifts, day after day, and the toll making high-level, life-altering decisions can take on fire leaders. They shared their personal strategies to recover, the need to lean on fellow firefighters and family to get them through, and the importance of taking time for themselves to relax and reset. Jensen also spoke about the value of getting professional therapy to gain an unbiased perspective on his thoughts and stressors. This series of articles is definitely worth a read for those who are involved in wildland firefighting efforts.

News of massive wildfires, primarily in California, dominated media headlines in 2018.
News of massive wildfires, primarily in California, dominated media headlines in 2018. (Photo/AP)

Dealing with firefighter stress and trauma

Managing stress and improving mental health continued to be hot topics on In Public Safety in 2018. We published several popular articles on various topics ranging from the importance of firefighters practicing self-care to strategies for maintaining a strong marriage.

The need to address trauma was also a popular subject. Captain Brad Bouchillon from the Statesboro (Georgia) Fire Department wrote about how firefighters can prepare for trauma before it happens as well as the need for firefighters to recognize vicarious trauma and take steps to prevent it. We also published an article about how first responders can educate their friends and family about being more sensitive and aware of issues related to trauma. Captain Bouchillon also wrote about navigating the grieving process and how first responders must understand that grieving is an individual and important process after loss. 

These articles are a continuation of In Public Safety’s focus on stress and wellness in the fire service following the 2017 publication of a full-length magazine on the topic. You can download the magazine for free here: Understanding and Coping with First Responder Stress.

Challenges facing combination fire departments

Other highly popular fire-related articles in 2018 include a four-part series written by AMU graduate Brad Davison, who is an engineer and paramedic in Iowa. Davison wrote these articles based on research he conducted for his graduate thesis. The articles include an overview of the foundation of his research and the greatest challenges agencies face including budget challenges, understanding what motivates volunteer firefighters, and the toll of increasing call volumes on combination fire departments.

If you’re interested in reading more articles like these, please subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter. We deliver high-quality and original articles written by experts in the field directly to your inbox. If you are interested in contributing an article, please email IPSauthor@apus.edu with a brief description of the topic and your background.

From those of us at In Public Safety and American Military University, we wish you a safe holiday season and a healthy new year.

About the author
Leischen Stelter is the editor of In Public Safety, an American Military University sponsored website. She has spent six years writing articles on issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, fire services, emergency management and national security. To contact her, email IPSauthors@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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