Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From Hire to Retire: Who helps us? Prioritizing firefighters’ mental well-being

Arjuna George   

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Photo: freeprompt / Adobe Stock

Firefighters are considered fearless superheroes who respond to emergencies, facing danger head-on to protect lives and property day after day with no issues. But that is simply not the case. Who helps us when we need help? 

I am going to delve into the power of peer support, therapy and coaching in building a robust mental health toolbox for firefighters.

The demanding and traumatic nature of fire fighting affects firefighters’ mental health. Exposure to disturbing incidents, witnessing human suffering, and the pressure to perform under stress can lead to psychological challenges like post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. Yet, there has been a longstanding stigma surrounding seeking help, making it difficult for firefighters to address their mental health needs.

The first line of defence is to continue educating yourself and your organization. Education in trauma-informed approaches, language and holistic modalities should be ever-evolving. All leaders must keep current on the evolving mental and physical health requirements to ensure a high-performing department. There are ways we can reduce or possibly even eliminate traumatic stress injuries if we invest in them.


Peer support

Peer support is crucial in bolstering firefighters’ well-being and mental health, serving as a formidable first line of defence against traumatic stress injuries. Fire fighting is a profession fraught with numerous stressors and exposure to traumatic events, which can affect firefighters’ mental and emotional resilience. In such a challenging environment, peer support acts as a protective shield, creating a safe space where firefighters can share their experiences, emotions and vulnerabilities without fear of judgment. By utilizing trauma-informed language and approaches, peers can foster a culture of understanding and empathy, acknowledging the impact of trauma and its long-term effects.

One of the most potent aspects of peer support is the shared experience between firefighters. Peers have a unique understanding of the challenges, fears and stressors faced in the line of duty, which enables them to offer genuine empathy and validation. By actively listening and providing compassionate responses, peers can help their colleagues process traumatic events, reducing the likelihood of suppressed emotions that could lead to traumatic stress injuries. This approach ensures that the support is not prescriptive but empowering, allowing each firefighter to navigate their healing journey at their own pace and comfort level.

Education in trauma-informed approaches, language and holistic modalities should be ever-evolving.

Professional therapy

While peer support is an excellent tool, it should not replace the need for therapy. Professional therapy plays a crucial role in the mental health journey of firefighters. Therapists trained in trauma and stress-related disorders can provide evidence-based interventions to help firefighters process their experiences and develop coping strategies. Seeking therapy shows leadership, strength and commitment to personal growth and resilience.


In addition to peer support and therapy, coaching is a powerful tool that can be added to a firefighter’s mental health toolbox. Coaching for high performers, like first responders, focuses on optimizing performance and enhancing overall well-being. Coaches work with firefighters to set goals, identify potential obstacles and effectively develop strategies to overcome challenges.

With its forward-looking approach, coaching empowers firefighters to take charge of their mental health journey actively. It helps them build resilience, enhance self-awareness and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Through coaching, firefighters can better understand their values and motivations, fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

The triad

The most impactful way to promote firefighters’ mental well-being revolves around incorporating peer support, therapy and coaching into their support systems. We can establish a comprehensive and trauma-informed network by integrating these complementary approaches. Recognizing the significance of a holistic approach to firefighter performance becomes essential in mitigating the risk of firefighter illness, disengagement, injury and suicide. Now is the time to harness the incredible resources available to us and prioritize the mental health of our firefighters. 

Arjuna George retired as a fire chief in November of 2021 after serving the department in Salt Spring Island, B.C., since 1997. He is now a fire service coach and consultant. Visit or email

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