Behavioral Health and Wellness in the Fire Service

Traditionally, medical and physical fitness have been prioritized above emotional or behavioral fitness in the fire service. However, it’s clear from the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters that these priorities are now changing.

With each passing year, research shows that fire personnel who balance physical, behavioral and emotional fitness have the best outcomes, whether starting on the job, measuring career satisfaction and family well-being or entering retirement.

There is growing concern about behavioral health issues and the significant impact on wellness. The stresses faced by fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs throughout the course of their careers – incidents involving children, violence, inherent dangers of firefighting and other potentially traumatic events – can have a cumulative impact on mental health and well-being.

The IAFF​ continues to develop resources that educate and support members on behavioral health concerns. Check back often for updated information on behavioral health programs and resources.

The stresses faced by fire service members throughout the course of their careers – incidents involving children, violence, inherent dangers of firefighting and other potentially traumatic events – can have a cumulative impact on mental health and well-being.

Peer support programs have been demonstrated to be an effective method for providing support to occupational groups, including fire fighters.

It may be possible to obtain a grant through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program to fund the IAFF Peer Support Training.

For more information, log in to the IAFF website, visit the Grants Administration page and review the Grant Application Guidance for the IAFF Peer Support Training.

Despite increased awareness of behavioral health problems in the fire service, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, burnout and suicide continue to plague our ranks.

Building on the initial success of the IAFF Peer Support Training program, the IAFF Resiliency Training is the next behavioral health training to be offered by the IAFF.

This training is a one-day, eight-hour, in-person training focused on building individual and organizational resilience in the fire service.

Important: It may be possible to obtain a grant through the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) grant program to fund IAFF Resiliency Training.

For more information, visit Grants Administration and review the grant application guidance for IAFF Resiliency Training.

The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery is an in-patient residential facility exclusively for IAFF members to treat addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Partnering with Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS), a leader in behavioral healthcare management, the IAFF Center of Excellence is staffed by a highly experienced and specialized team familiar with the unique needs of our members and the fire service culture. Located outside Washington, DC, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the Center opened March 5, 2017.

Learn more about the Center and the resources available to IAFF members.

For an overview of the treatment program offered at the Center, see the IAFF Center of Excellence Clinical Program Guide.

Watch the latest edition of Kitchen Table – Center of Excellence Webinar: Access, Expectations and Treatment – where General President Schaitberger and Center of Excellence staff respond to questions about the Center submitted by IAFF members.

In addition, the IAFF has created a toolkit designed to provide affiliate leaders with information and resources to ensure IAFF members have access to the Center of Excellence.

Attending Online Meetings

You do not need to sign up or register in advance. Simply click on the Join Meeting link below and enter the meeting password. Meeting links and passwords may change occasionally.

If you are interested in receiving updates and reminders about IAFF online recovery meetings, sign up here.

IAFF Online Meeting Schedule

Important: Meeting days/times/links are subject to changes. Please bookmark this page and refer back to it for each meeting.

Speaker Meeting:

Small Group Meetings:

  • Wednesdays – NEW TIME! Effective August 5, 2020
    p.m. ET (5:00-6:00 p.m. PT)
    Join Wednesday’s Meeting (Password: 3500locals)

Meetings Hosted by Other Groups

  • Toronto Local 3888 Firefighter Recovery Meeting
    8:00-9:00 p.m. ET (5:00-6:00 p.m. PT)
    Join Meeting (Password: TFS12step)

Promote Online Meetings

Use the IAFF-branded graphics below to promote our online recovery meetings to your members on social media or in the firehouse.

Online Meeting Basics

IAFF online recovery meetings are for members coping with or in recovery from an alcohol or substance use problem.

This peer-led meeting is intended to provide a supportive space for individuals to share their experience, strength and hope with other brothers and sisters interested in recovery.

Online recovery meetings are an inclusive space that embrace multiple pathways to recovery, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART recovery, harm reduction and medication assisted treatment.

Peer connection plays an essential role in supporting recovery from addiction and overall behavioral health. Online meetings provide an alternative to in-person meetings and offer support, accountability and connection to other members who want to live without alcohol or drugs.

Meetings are hosted through an external, web-based platform. You can choose to participate with video or audio only and do not need to provide any identifying information to participate in the meeting. We are not monitoring or tracking who participates in the meeting.

Online recovery meetings are 60 minutes and begin with a review of ground rules. Meetings are delivered in two formats:

  • Speaker Meetings focus on the recovery testimonial of one to three speakers who have agreed to share their story. Speaker meetings are not an opportunity for individual participation and are designed for larger groups.
  • Small Group Meetings begin with a brief discussion on a specific theme, then individual participants have a time-limited opportunity to share how they relate to the theme or to check in with the group. Small group meetings are designed for 25-50 participants.

To address the ongoing opioid problem, the IAFF – with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – has launched an online series to provide an in-depth understanding of opioid epidemic impacting the United States and Canada. This series is designed for fire service personnel and civilians. Each segment includes at least one video and corresponding podcast to provide more in-depth discussion and commentary.

Topics include:

  1. Opioid Use Disorder: A Disease
  2. Treating Opioid Addiction
  3. Treatment Considerations for Fire Fighters
  4. Responsible Approaches to Pain Management
  5. Stories of Recovery From Opioid Addiction
  6. Addressing Substance Use in Your Department
  7. Situational Awareness When Responding to Opioid Incidents
  8. Managing Exposure Risks
  9. Community Approaches to the Opioid Crisis
  10. Managing Compassion Fatigue

Click here to access the series.

The John P. Redmond Symposium/Dominick F. Barbera EMS Conference, scheduled for August 6-10, 2017, in Vancouver, British Columbia, includes plenary sessions and workshops addressing behavioral health issues in the fire service. The 2017 Vincent J. Bollon Affiliate Leadership Training Summit (ALTS) – held in January in Anaheim, California – included a two-hour panel presentation on Addressing PTSD Through Peer Support. Other presentations at past IAFF events include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Fire Service.

The IAFF has created an online Behavioral Health Awareness course. The two-hour course is self-paced and tailored for the fire service. The overview course covers depression, substance abuse, trauma, PTSD, suicide risk and prevention, and strategies for maintaining balance and emotional wellness. Use IAFF login credentials to access the course on our Online Learning Center.

The IAFF highlighted the risks of PTSD in the fire service through its cover story “Bringing PTSD Out of the Shadows” in Fire Fighter Quarterly magazine (Winter 2015).

IAFF national meetings regularly include plenary sessions and workshops to educate members, such as this two-hour panel presentation on behavioral health at the 2015 Affiliate Leadership Training Summit in Anaheim, California. The panel included: Suzy Gulliver, Director, Warriors Research Institute and Professor at Texas A&M; Frank Leto, Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854; Joe Schulle, President, Philadelphia Local 22; Kenneth Stuart, President, Seattle Local 27; and Patrick Morrison, IAFF Health and Safety (moderator).

The IAFF has updated the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative (3rd Edition) to include a behavioral health component to help departments develop successful and comprehensive​ behavioral health programs.

Funded by a FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety grant, the IAFF has worked with researchers from Texas A&M and Baylor Scott & White Healthcare to offer new resources on suicide awareness and prevention, including SOPs to use following a suicide.

A set of guidelines – Responding to Members’ Behavioral Health Needs: A Three-Month Action Plan for IAFF Leaders – was developed for the 2017 Vincent J. Bollon Affiliate Leadership Training Summit. The plan outlines concrete steps that IAFF affiliates can take to help them respond when there’s a behavioral health need.

In 2018, the IAFF partnered with NBC to survey the IAFF membership on critical behavioral health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, occupational stress, and behavioral health service utilization. Seven thousand members responded. See results in this video report.

United Phoenix Firefighters’ FireStrong website has behavioral health information for the fire service

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD is dedicated to research and education on trauma and PTSD

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) connects callers to local crisis centers and has information on suicide prevention.

For more information, contact behavi[email protected]

International Association of Fire Fighters
Attn: Health and Safety Department
1750 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006-5395