Thousands of active and retired firefighters responded to the alarm and 343 members of the FDNY perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. Firefighters, both active and retired, and their families were deeply affected, grappling with the loss of their loved ones, those missing, and what was to come.
This is the need Friends of Firefighters initially met, but it’s not the only one we meet today
- Tragedy on the Job
- Family Life
- The Effect
- Meeting the Need
TRAGEDY ON THE JOB
Firefighting consistently ranks as one of the most stressful jobs in the country. Given that firefighters are the first to respond to incidents this is not surprising. According to the NY Times FDNY responds to an average of 68 structural fires a day, of which 8 to 10 usually qualify as serious.
Only three months into 2015 New York City firefighters had already seen major trauma. The fatal fire that took the lives of 7 children in Brooklyn and the fatal East Village explosion, both in March of 2015, are horrific reminders of the trauma firefighters face daily and the need for easily accessible counseling and wellness services in order to cope.
According to City Limits, US firefighter deaths have averaged at 100 a year since 1977. Not including those from September 11, 2001 there were 18 line of duty deaths within the FDNY from June 2001 to July 2014. These included the 2005 Black Sunday, when two separate fires took the lives of four firefighters total, and the 2001 Father’s Day Fire, which took the lives of three firefighters.
The cause of a line of duty death can be one of many factors – not enough air, problems getting water, building collapses or explosions, poorly communicated information, under-staffing, getting lost, or lack of updated equipment. The largest single risk is a cardiovascular event, which makes up nearly half of line of duty firefighter deaths, triggered by smoke exposure, exertion, and heat stress. Lessons are learned each time and improvements are made, but it doesn’t take back the loss.
In an article for Fire Engineering titled “What Every Firefighter’s Spouse Should Know”, the wife of a firefighter cites exposure to danger and trauma, the risk of cancer, sleep disruption, and emotional, behavioral, and physical reactions as the main concerns for the family. She notes that she and her husband have worked hard for the healthy long-term relationship they are in. We’ve recognized that by providing services to the family (spouses and children) we are supporting the firefighter.
What is not always discussed is what comes after these incidents, whether mental or physical.
As of 2015 over 1,000 FDNY firefighters who responded to 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer and more than 2,100 have retired. As of this writing 109 have passed away due to 9/11 related illnesses, a number that increases weekly. As mentioned above, cardiovascular problems, especially heart attacks, are a big concern among firefighters, making up almost half of line of duty deaths.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that “studies have found that as many as 37 percent of firefighters may exhibit symptoms of PTSD.” A number of factors contribute to these high levels of PTSD such as trauma, stress, isolation, and difficulty seeking support. Suicide among firefighters is not uncommon; as of July three FDNY firefighters had taken their lives in 2015. Separate from PTSD, it is common to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression from the effects of the job.
Another factor leading to mental health issues is retirement, especially when retiring early due to injury or illness. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “The strong sense of belonging and the camaraderie needed to take risks can work in reverse when a firefighter retires or leaves the fire service and no longer has that connectedness.”
MEETING THE NEED
Seeking help doesn’t come easily, especially to a community that is used to providing help. Other common barriers to getting help include concerns over effect on the job, confidentiality, and cost.
Friends of Firefighters works hard to decrease barriers by providing independent, confidential, and free counseling and wellness services to active and retired FDNY firefighters and their family members. View the full list of our services here and contact us with questions or to make an appointment.