This time of the year can be a challenge for wildland firefighters

Six hotshot crews
Six hotshot crews: Los Padres, Horseshoe, Fulton, Springville, Breckenridge & Kern Valley

The holidays at the end of the year can be tough for many people, including wildland firefighters. With that in mind we are re-running this article from a few months ago.

Wildland firefighters on crews that are often deployed on endless 14-day assignments far from home may become acclimated to the high energy adrenaline-fueled environment. They are part of a team working toward the same clear objective, constructing fireline, installing hose lays, or mopping up. The goal is usually very obvious, and when done they can look back and see what they accomplished while part of a group that over months together could complete each other’s sentences. They know what each would do when faced with a pulse-elevating situation, or how they deal with boredom while waiting for a ride back to fire camp.

When the fire season is over, their environment goes through a metamorphose. Almost overnight they may find themselves with their spouse, significant other, children, parents, non-fire friends, or, alone — a completely different situation from the previous six months. Some firefighters adapt more easily than others. Those that don’t, may experience mental health issues and mild or severe depression. Spouses or children of the often-absent firefighter may also show symptoms.

In the last five years we have learned that the suicide rates of wildland firefighters is “astronomical”, according to information developed by Nelda St. Clair of the Bureau of Land Management in 2017. It is high even when compared with structural firefighters, which is also higher than the general population.

As we approach the slower part of the fire year, especially for those who are employed less than full time, if you know someone who seems very depressed, it is OK to ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Some people think this will spur suicide attempts but that is not accurate. Encouraging them to talk could be the first step leading them to safety.

This video encourages that communication. (I’m told that some of the people in the video are YouTubers. It features Hannah Hart, Liza Koshy, Markiplier, Meredith Foster, Orion Carloto, Remi Cruz, Shannon Beveridge, Tyler Oakley, and Tyler Posey.)

Members of the military returning from deployment can also have difficulties readjusting to life back at home. A Department of Defense webpage has information on the subject that appears to be directed toward the spouse. Here is an excerpt.

Depression and Suicide Prevention
Depression can happen to anyone – resulting in long-term feelings that affect an individual’s mood and daily activities. Service members may be facing challenges during reintegration that seem completely overwhelming, but understanding the warning signs for depression and suicide can help you intervene and get the them the help that they need. Signs to be aware of include:

–A range of emotions and changes in personality, including repeated and intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness or pessimism
–A loss of interest in life or hobbies and prolonged periods of crying or sleeping
–Substance abuse or withdrawal from friends and family
–Displays of emotional distress in online activity
–Excessive feelings of guilt, shame or a sense of failure
–Physical symptoms like weight loss or weight gain, decreased energy, headaches, digestive issues or back pain
–Talking about dying or seeking information about death.


Help is available for those feeling really depressed or suicidal.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “This time of the year can be a challenge for wildland firefighters”

  1. The number one thing that draws folks back to shot crews or any other tight knit cohesive crew are the bonds that are created between one another, I know what it is, I just can not adequately explain it, it’s special, the end of the season can often be traumatic for some, it’s family, dysfunctional as it is there is nothing like it, and yes it’s very hard for some to transition from that to normal every day life, it always took at least a month or two reconnect with my family, longer if we had any near misses/close calls…..It’s a HARD job……Peace…..

    If you have someone you are concerned about then please keep in touch with them…..They need you……You Supt’s have a big job……TCB…….

  2. Thanks for continuing to post information on this subject Bill.
    Thanks to those who continue to make helping Wildland firefighters and their families a priority in their lives.
    I for one appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.
    Ken Kerr

    1. agreed, Ken. Being the eyewitness to the Yarnell Hill Fire 2013 / 2016 – this Holiday Season has brought to my life some very traumatized folks who were on those fires. I explain to the folks how I have been a sponge for so many folks lives since that tragic day but just this Season alone 18 folks have come to me thanking me to be a sound non-judgmental person to share their quiet stories as it helped their “Mental Health” and I know they apologize to me because I was with the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Weavers 6-30-13 and we almost died by just 11 minutes by some of their actions that day but we all matter. I forgive them and anyone who were a part of the spur road and other activities. I know you coming to me was a last-ditch resort because you never knew if I would speak your stories public- I will not—I know the sufferings. I also have had some folks close to the very “public” naysayers towards me- their family or friends/FFs/WFs share their support to me. It matters. It lets me know that maybe one person may be unstable or uncapable due to their own past traumas to see I am not in this to harm or hurt but I am in it to document how I almost died 6-30-13 and I have done it for the Public at Large not just for me in silence. We all matter.


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