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Looking Back to Stay Focused: 2001 Fire Chief Magazine column: How far have we come?


PRIMEDIA'S Fire Cheif Magazine announces special Mental Health Section: December issue will be dedicated to the firefighters of New York City and Washington DC

The Fire Chief Magazine announced that the December issue will be dedicated to the firefighters of New York City and Washington DC. In light of last month's awful tragedy at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a special mental health services section will be devoted to those firefighters most affected by the terrorist attacks and will include informative insight as to how these individuals can overcome the emotional trauma and mental stress that these events have caused. This section, written by Robert L. Smith, PhD, therapist and firefighter, examines how firefighters perceive mental health services and provides insight as to what unique problems and issues firefighters must overcome in carrying out such a stressful and dangerous career. In this column titled: "Are Firefighters Reluctant to Seek Mental Health Services," Dr. Smith refers to the results of his recent research study focusing on the attitudes of firefighters toward mental health services and comparing these attitudes with those of everyday civilians. Some of the most interesting points from Dr. Smith's survey noted that firefighters:

1. More strongly agreed that emotional problems are perceivd by other firefighters as a sign of weakness

2. Reported a stronger desire to discuss emotional problems with other firefighters rather than a mental health professional and rated firefighters poorly for seeking help on emotional problems

3. Felt that a mental health practitioner should know certain things about the job and lifestyle of a firefighter before attempting to work with firefighters and their families

"The results of this research study support a number of ideas. We must do all that we can to change some of the attitudes that act as a barrier to firefighters seeking mental health services," said Dr. Smith, PhD, therapist and lieutenant on Ladder Company 223 in Washington Township (Indianapolis) Fire Department. "Emotional difficulties that are associated with job stressors should be viewed as a human response rather than a sign of weakness. Mental Health practitioners need to become more familiar with the general job stress that firefighters frequently encounter."

Added Dr. Smith, "Perhaps we in the fire service industry can do a bit more to support our brother and sister firefighters that are encountering emotional problems. Especially those firefighters that are now dealing with the tremendous trauma of last month's awful tragedy."

Dr. Smith's research study compares attitudes of a group of Indianapolis firefighters and a group of non fire-fighters. PRIMEDIA'S Fire Chief Magazine chose to release this newly found data now, in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks and in an effort to educate the firefighters on how to best approach and overcome mental health problems.

"Whether our country's firefighters were actually on the scene in NYC, DC or Pennsylvania, the emotional impact of September 11th has affected every member of this profession and industry in a profound way. As physically strong and capable as firefighters may or may not be, the emotional aspect of stress is just as critical or deadly as a physical disability," said Janet Wilmouth, editor of PRIMEDIA'S Fire Chief Magazine. "FIRE CHIEF Magazine's purpose in featuring Dr. Smith's article in December and continuing with a column in 2002 is to address and dispel the notion that therapy is a sign of weakness. We want to ensure that the nation's firefighters know how to accept the emotional support from professionals, fellow firefighters, family and friends. Dr. Smith is not only a firefighter, but also a professional."

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