UH Moment

UH Moment: Addressing Emotional Risks Firefighters Face on the Job

“The culture has to be where not only is it allowed to talk about what we see, it has to be expected,”

During the workday you’ll find Elizabeth Anderson-Fletcher teaching at the University of Houston Bauer College of Business and Hobby School of Public Affairs. But on nights and weekends she wears a different hat as a volunteer firefighter with the Cypress Creek Fire Department.

That unique perspective put her in position to co-author a report at the request of the International Association of Fire Chiefs on the mental well-being of firefighters, including a heightened risk of suicide.

“We need to look inside ourselves to see if there are things that we are struggling with, and ask for help,” Anderson-Fletcher said.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that 4.6 percent of the general adult population had attempted suicide. A recent study of firefighters put that number at 15.5 percent.

“A lot of folks coming in do not have an expectation of how seeing things we see on a repeated basis beat you up,” Anderson-Fletcher said.

The recommendations from the report include changing the firehouse culture by encouraging discussions about emotional health, training officers to reach out to firefighters who show symptoms of stress and including a behavioral health component in education and training programs.

“The culture has to be where not only is it allowed to talk about what we see, it has to be expected,” Anderson-Fletcher said.

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