‘Trauma is cumulative’: SAFD prioritizing mental health for firefighters

Crews deal with deadly scenes, sometimes involving children

SAN ANTONIO – Mental health is a top priority for the San Antonio Fire Department as the number of deadly fires in the city has hit double digits this year.

Twelve people have lost their lives in fires.

Every scene stays with San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.

“The kind of calls that we go on are reminiscent of a bad movie, but it’s real,” he said.

Hood said, “It’s very difficult for us to see a lot of the things that we see, and then the expectation is that we get back on that truck.”

One of those difficult calls was on Winding Oak Drive Saturday morning.

“It affected so many of us because there were kids involved,” Hood said.

SAFD has prioritized mental health this week, checking in after the deadliest recorded house fire in over a decade.

“Somebody from peer support reached out to every known person that was at that fire scene, and we’ll continue to as long as there is need,” said Dr. Melissa Graham, a psychologist who runs the intensive in-house wellness program at SAFD.

Hood and Graham said mental health has been at the forefront of the department for years, using apps and websites to offer support daily.

“It’s constant check-ins,” Graham said.

But when tragedy starts to stack up, trauma sneaks in, Graham said.

“Trauma is cumulative. This one might not get you... and then this one that is really not all that different than the other ones is the one that gets you,” she said.

Hood said staying on top of how his department needs to heal is a top priority.

“We put units out of service. We went to visit,” Graham said.

So even if a deadly scene can’t be forgotten, firefighters can learn to live with what they’ve seen.

Beginning next Friday, Graham said she’ll take Slider the dog to one fire station weekly, and Fire Station 1 is the first stop.


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About the Author

Avery Everett is a news reporter and multimedia journalist at KSAT 12 News. Avery is a Philadelphia native. If she’s not at the station, she’s either on a hiking or biking trail. A lover of charcuterie boards and chocolate chip cookies, Avery’s also looking forward to eating her way through San Antonio, one taco shop at a time!

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