PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — First responders are called first responders for a reason. They are the first ones to show up during an emergency, which is always a stressful condition that can take a toll on their mental health.

Firefighters need tools, like trucks and firehoses, to do their job. But it’s also crucial for firefighters to have resources to take care of their mental health.

“Being in a job where we see the the dark side of what is involved in life is is really hard. It can be really taxing,” said Portland firefighter Christina Dizon.

That’s why Portland Fire & Rescue has a new behavioral health coordinator to help them deal with their daily job-related stresses.

Tara Stein, the PFR Behavioral Health Coordinator, October 3, 2023 (KOIN)
Tara Stein, the PFR Behavioral Health Coordinator, October 3, 2023 (KOIN)

“What we can do if there has been a particularly traumatic event or if somebody is struggling with a particular call or just things going on in their life or in their job, they can reach out to me,” said Tara Stein, the PFR Behavioral Health Coordinator.

According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, more firefighters died from suicide each year than in the line of duty, and many suicides are likely unreported.

“They see more traumatic events in one year of their career than people are going to see ever in their lifetime,” Stein said. “So firefighters and first responders in general have higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcohol use. And so these are things that they struggle with on a daily basis.”

Portland firefighters are dealing with high call volumes adding more stress.

Portland firefighter Christina Dizon, October 3, 2023 (KOIN)
Portland firefighter Christina Dizon, October 3, 2023 (KOIN)

“We have a lot more ODs that were going on around the fentanyl crisis, that we have a lot more houseless population type calls and fires that are associated with that and ODs as well,” Stein told KOIN 6 News.

Dizon said she thinks “the continued emphasis on people talking about what’s going on” helps the most. “It’s very clear that we have to rally and support each other and that helps the mental load of of that.”

Firefighters can go through training to become a peer supporter to help with personal or work-related stressors, including traumatic events.