Healthy Headspace: Firefighters and Mental Health

KENNEWICK, WA - Across the country, mental health needs are being noticed and talked about. In fire service in particular, many efforts have been made regarding mental and physical health awareness.

The Kennewick Fire Services have developed many physical and mental health support resources. Mental health training, peer support training and other programs are available for firefighters. They also promote healthier living habits.

As far as the physical aspect goes, Captain Bob Dirham with Kennewick Fire said firefighters have a job that can be very physically demanding. He said they have programs set up to help with their nutrition and physical fitness.

"We are very lucky to have nice gyms at every station," Captain Dirham said. "So, we got good equipment where we can go in and work out. We do have a mandatory hour, everyday on shift where we are supposed to go in and work out. "

Captain Dirham said they usually work out as a group. In fact, he said they usually do everything as a team in the fire service.

"So, we got good avenues for good personal fitness and staying in shape," Captain Dirham said.

He said firefighters do their best to get good rest.

"Our job frequently gets us up at all hours of the night, so we do the best we can with getting rest. The important part for firefighters is that they take care of themselves on and off duty," Captain Dirham said. "So, when they are off duty, they get a chance to recover and get the rest that they need. So that, they can be ready to go back and deal with calls that are called next time they are at work."

From the mental aspect of it, he said the Kennewick Fire and other fire departments in the Tri-Cities have a "peer support team."

"And it's a group of firefighters. I believe there is nine of us at Kennewick Fire that has gone out and had some training on aspects like PTSD and how to deal with mental health," Captain Dirham said. "Something they call critical mental stress debriefing after we have a call that may be dramatic, we will get together as a group and kind of break down that call and talk about it. Make sure everybody is doing o.k."

He said the peer support group is a big resource for firefighters.

"It is something that we are still getting off the ground in Kennewick, but we are definitely moving in the right direction with the support of our administration and our city to build that team and get our people some real good training," Captain Dirham said.

There is also a Chaplain Service in the Tri-Cities run by Bill Lotz.

"They are coming out and talking to us on critical calls. Sometimes the chaplain will come around and respond with us. So, he or she is actually there to see first hand of what we are witnessing, and so they are able to come back and talk to us about it and walk us through some process of mental health standpoint," Captain Dirham said.

Similar to the Kennewick Police Department, he said firefighters enjoy support from the community.

"Anytime we see support from the community, that is something that makes you feel positive inside and helps with that mental health aspect of going out and doing our job," Captain Dirham said.

Captain Dirham said they do have a good mental and physical support system within their department and all departments in the Tri-Cities. He said even though they are just starting to getting their program off the ground, they are working toward making it better.