Understanding PTSD

Author: IAFF Staff

August 20, 2018

Fire fighters deal with potentially traumatic events almost every day on the job, and some may experience painful memories in the aftermath. The effects of a traumatic event can fade over time, but for some, those memories and feelings persist.

Mental health experts are not entirely sure why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others do not. If stress reactions do not improve over time and begin to disrupt everyday life, it is important to seek help to determine if a mental health disorder is present.

The concept of PTSD has been recognized for centuries but has been called many different names. Previously, terms including “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” have been used to explain PTSD. About 1 in 11 individuals will have PTSD in their lifetime, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Some signs and symptoms of PTSD can include:

Intrusive memories

  • Recurring, involuntary and intrusive memories of the trauma
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (e.g., flashbacks)
  • Serious emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds an individual of the trauma


  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the trauma
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind an individual of the traumatic event.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

  • Persistent negative beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., no one can be trusted)
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed

Changes in physical and emotional reactions

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
Understanding PTSD

Fire fighting is a tough job — both mentally and physically.There is no shame in seeking treatment for PTSD or other behavioral health issues. You are not alone. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence to learn more about treatment options and support. Telephones are staffed around the clock with professionals who understand these issues and can help you get into a program that works best for you.

We can help. Call 240-545-5141 or

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