It’s been decades now since newsrooms started reporting that counseling services were being arranged for firefighters and first responders.
Yet, mental health programs still seem like an afterthought.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently ordered a shifting of money around to address the new realities of fire and firefighting in our state. We haven’t yet seen anything delineated for the mental health care and accommodation of our front-line responders. It should be included.
Years and years ago, it was assumed that firefighters and officers just knew how to deal with the sometimes horrible scenes and heartbreaking scenarios of their jobs. Then we figured out that their experiences and what they had to see and deal with on the job could negatively affect them, and that we ought to feel some obligation to offer them counseling and treatment.
Still, a report by the Ruderman Family Foundation shows that police and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Post traumatic stress disorder and depression rates are five times higher than the rates within the civilian population. And the Firefighters Behavioral Health Alliance estimates only 40 percent of firefighter suicides are reported.
The latest large-scale terrible thing first responders went through on our behalf here in Northern California: the Camp Fire where the main order of business became the recovery and removal of bodies.
“It’s easy to see why some firefighters do struggle and have depression,” said Marysville Fire Chief Ron Karlen, in a recent story. “It’s the continual exposure to trauma. I grew up in the time of ‘suck it up.’”
There shouldn’t be a need to suck it up. Now days, addressing mental health needs should be as normal as treating any physical condition.
In that regard, we’d like to see state, as well as local, officials take care to make sure there is ample funding for counseling services.
Gov. Newsom declared a statewide emergency to speed up fire prevention efforts in California. We’re not slighting him for that – this is probably a good year for early action ... the drought is over and the grass has grown long and lush and it will all be dried out in a few months and ready to burn; and news accounts relate that there are some 2 million California homes located in high fire hazard zones.
Newsom’s order Friday fast-tracks tree clearing and forest management work.
There’s money for especially fire-prone counties; helping community-based organizations spread the word, grants for groups caring for animals during disasters, local and regional response teams and public awareness campaigns. He’s also proposed additional money for fire-fighting and prevention efforts in the next state budget, which would include more money for clearing trees, installing better alert systems, and remote cameras to detect fires earlier. And he also wants to hire more than a hundred additional firefighters and buy 13 more engines.
That’s all good. But could we also make sure the money is allocated for making sure our first responders are taken care of?
Our View editorials represent the opinion of the Appeal-Democrat and its editorial board and are edited by the publisher and/or editor. Members of the editorial board include: Publisher Glenn Stifflemire and Editor Steve Miller.