Firefighters ‘face higher suicide risk’

FIREFIGHTERS are more susceptible to disease and have a higher chance of committing suicide due to the nature of their job, a new report commissioned by the United Firefighters Union (UFU) Victorian branch says.

The report, prepared by the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity, says studies prove firefighters are more susceptible to heart and respiratory diseases and a range of cancers. It says high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues, plus a reluctance to use support and welfare programs due to the culture of the workplace, could lead to suicide.

“Given the psychological impact of firefighting – higher prevalence of PTSD, depression, anxiety and alcohol or drug use – there is a probability that firefighters may be more likely to commit suicide,” the report said. 

“One of the major obstacles to the success of support and welfare programs identified... is the reluctance of firefighters to use the programs.

“Reasons... included the macho nature of the job and the ‘rescue mindset’ of concentrating on helping others.”

CFA spokesman Gerard Scholten said the CFA provided a strong set of support services for its workers.

“We have got a really strong peer support network in place and a safety-first culture,” he said.  “If you go out to the fire grounds and watch them get a briefing, one of the things they are told is to look out for their mates and also look after themselves.”

Mr Scholten said the CFA endeavoured to ensure its workers’ physical and mental wellbeing. 

“They are operating in high-stress situations, and that’s why we spent so much time training and preparing them for those situations,” he said.

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