California Firefighters Struggle With Mental Health Issues

BY: Koszdin | Friday, June 17, 2022.

Anyone who lives in California or who follows news regarding California wildfires likely knows that fire seasons in the state have grown longer and more intense in recent years. Some of the consequences of these prolonged fire seasons are easy to recognize. Photos and footage of regions devastated by fire paint a very grim picture.

However, it is worth noting that some of the negative consequences associated with California’s wildfires may be easier to overlook. This does not mean they are any less significant.

Specifically, it has become apparent that the firefighters dispatched to address and eliminate California’s wildfires are beginning to struggle with PTSD and other such mental health issues in increasing numbers.

This is partially due to the fact that they are faced with both the deaths of their coworkers and the possibility of their own deaths on a fairly routine basis when compared to workers in other occupations and fields. Consider the fact that since 2006, more than 50 California firefighters have passed away in the line of duty. Many others have been seriously injured.

In addition to the deaths of their friends, firefighters must also cope with the deaths of those they are trying to save. For instance, in 2020, the worst fire season on record in California, fires claimed the lives of 33 people. It is also estimated that wildfires burned approximately 4% of the state. In a large state like California, that figure represents a tremendous amount of land.

The severity of the mental health toll that such working conditions and losses can take on a firefighter cannot be downplayed. According to Cal Fire Captain Mike Orton, “I would be willing to bet that there’s suicidal ideation in half of our employees right now.”

This statement may only be based on anecdotal evidence. Regardless, it should shock and dismay anyone. A 50% rate of suicidal ideation throughout the members of a workforce is staggering.

Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting service, also must regularly contend with staffing shortages. This forces firefighters to work unreasonably long shifts. The result is fatigue and related issues which can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems.

Firefighters and those concerned about the well-being of firefighters argue that Cal Fire and other such services must be more proactive in regard to identifying mental health struggles among firefighters and addressing them. In the meantime, however, it is also important that firefighters understand how they may go about seeking compensation for losses associated with the mental health struggles that they may be facing as a result of their employment.

Many already know that in California, employees have the option of filing claims to recover workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in on-the-job accidents or other such job-related circumstances. What they might not know is that they can also sometimes file claims to recover compensation if they have developed PTSD, anxiety, or other such mental health disorders because of the work they do.

Are you a California firefighter who believes you may have grounds to file a workers’ compensation claim or third-party lawsuit due to mental health struggles? If so, our Van Nuys workers’ compensation attorneys at Koszdin, Fields & Sherry would be happy to discuss your legal options in greater detail. Learn more about what we can do for you by contacting us online today or calling us at 818-812-5639 to schedule a consultation.

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