Preparing for Reintegration: Tips for Wildland Firefighters Before Returning Home
After the intense demands and adrenaline-filled days of fire season, returning to daily life can be a challenging transition for many wildland firefighters. The rhythm of firefighting—its inherent camaraderie, the sense of purpose, the long hours—is sharply different from the ebb and flow of life off the line. To ease this shift, it's essential to recognize and address the physical and emotional toll the season may have taken. After all, the strength of a firefighter lies not just in battling flames but also in ensuring that these men and women find balance and restoration as they return to their homes and communities.
Reconnect with loved ones: Spend quality time with family and friends to rebuild and strengthen personal relationships that may have been strained during the season.
Prioritize self-care: Engage in activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, hiking, or simply relaxing. Ensure you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.
Form new routines: The off-season is a shift from high-adrenaline work. Creating a daily or weekly routine can provide structure and purpose.
Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practicing grounding exercises like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and listening to calming music can help reduce stress from the transition.
Engage in skill-building activities or personal hobbies: The off-season can be a time to engage in training or skill-building, whether related to wildland firefighting or personal hobbies.
Limit exposure to industry-related news: While staying informed is important, sometimes distancing yourself from fire-related news or discussions can help you mentally detach from work.
Educate yourself with signs of depression or PTSD: Understand the signs and symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. This can help in recognizing when you or a fellow firefighter may need help.
It's okay to seek a professional counselor or therapist: It's important to understand getting professional counseling or therapy is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards maintaining mental well-being.
If you or one of your crewmates needs help but is unsure where to begin or who to turn to, this list of resources can be a great starting point. Even though it may not always be simple, we can start with baby steps and gradually work our way up.
- Wildland Firefighter Foundation: Mental Health
- National Interagency Fire Center: Taking Care of Our Own
- Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988 for 24/7 confidential support
- TheHotshotWakeUp Podcast: Relationships and Wildfire: A Chat with Family and Relationship Counselor Destiny Morris