For a wildland firefighter, the dangers of the job can linger long after the flames go out. Some will go into the upcoming off-season feeling anxious without their crew and the adrenaline rush of chasing down forest fires.
State and federal agencies have noticed this anxiety in recent years. They say that mindset has become a life-threatening situation as more and more firefighters die by suicide.
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When George Gissler started his career fighting wildfires in the mid 1980s, crew members seldom discussed mental health. Gissler, now the Washington State Forester, said that during his time on the fireline crews were considered a “tool to get the job done.”
“In wildland firefighting, that is especially prevalent,” Gissler said. “We’re very much a can-do type of an organization. But that did sweep a lot of stuff under the table.”
Gissler wants to change the culture. As state forester, he oversees Washington’s largest on-call fire squad within the Department of Natural Resources. It’s made up of the men and women who fight flames in the woods and brush instead of buildings. It’s physically and mentally exhausting work as crew members often spend 16 or more hours in a day battling fire in rugged terrain while spending weeks, if not months, away from the comfort of their family and friends.
“I do know folks who struggle with it greatly. I have lost very dear friends who have succumbed to that depression,” said Gissler.
There are no solid statistics on wildland firefighter suicides because federal

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