By Christine Pitawanich, KGW8
It’s been a year since the Beachie Creek Fire devastated the Santiam Canyon. For firefighters in the area, responding to such a devastating fire so close to home took a mental toll.
Many of the fire departments in the area are volunteer based and in September 2020, they faced something they’d never encountered.
“I’ve never seen that type of firestorm before and I’ve been in the fire service for over 20 years. But I think even more so it was in our backyard,” said Amber Cross.
She works for the Oregon State Fire Marshals Office and is also a volunteer firefighter with the Sublimity Fire District. She remembers how surreal it was to fight such a huge and active fire.
“Just mentally I think […] it’s exhausting,” Cross said.
That’s why she said it’s so important to address the mental health needs of first responders. Her 2-year-old golden retriever, Probie, helps her do it.
Cross said there’s been progress in the fire service when it comes to mental health, which has become more of a focus in recent years. Now there are different resources like therapy dogs and an emphasis on peer support. Chaplains are also available as a resource.
Claire McGrew, assistant chief deputy at the Oregon State Fire Marshals Office, said each fire department in the state, more than 300 of them, is typically connected to resources through a chaplain.
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