KRNV: Mental health prioritized as firefighters work in peak fire season

RENO, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) — This year alone Nevada has had over 500 wildfires that have burned over 250,000 acres. Hundreds of fires continue to burn in California as well, creating immense amounts of stress for firefighters already stretched thin.

“It puts a strain on everybody,” says Ryan Whitlock, Northern District Vice President of the Professional Firefighters of Nevada.

PFFN has partnered with Northern Nevada Peer Support Network to provide mental health resources for firefighters. The program uses collaborative efforts to improve resilience by breaking down mental barriers surrounding mental health. It’s not uncommon for firefighters to have episodes while fighting fires, according to Whitlock.

“We’re trying to understand the trigger points and the things that actually trigger these guys into having these episodes or getting depression,” says Whitlock. “But what I really want to focus on is our ability to get it out there and break the common mold.”

Whitlock says many firefighters bottle up their emotions/issues in order to get the job done while regularly spending anywhere from 14-21 days away from their home fighting fires. This year has been especially tough with the pandemic and intense fires. Resources continue be stretched thin.

“We’re in a spot resource wise called preparedness level five,” says Whitlock. “That means there are so many different major instances happening in the region that our resources are taxed, and they may be exhausted, or we’re going to exhaust them on another fire here locally.”

Despite many local firefighters traveling to California to fight blazes there, PFFN says local fire agencies prioritize fires in the Northern Nevada region first, and only send crews away if they have enough resources locally.

PFFN encourages the public to be cautious when camping and target shooting. This year, more than half of Nevada’s wildfires have been human-caused.

For more on Northern Nevada Peer Support Network and its available resources, click here.