South Metro firefighters work on through coronavirus pandemic

Sleepless nights. House fires. Heart attacks. Car crashes. Medical emergencies.

And now, COVID-19.

It’s a firefighter’s job to respond when people need someone the most, but COVID-19 has added a new reality that few ever deemed possible. The added levels of stress from the pandemic that so many people feel is greatly magnified for firefighters and emergency responders.

“We got into this line of work because we want to help in emergency situations,” said Jeff Hulley, a South Metro Fire Rescue EMS supervisor/firefighter. “I signed up to take the daily risks because that is what I love. But I didn’t sign up to pass that risk along to my 80-year-old grandmother.”

Many firefighters worry that they might be exposed on the job and bring the new coronavirus back to the station, inadvertently infecting their crew, or taking it home to their families. Concerns run high that this respiratory illness could be a career-altering or -ending sickness.

Everyday decisions in the field now have become even more critical. Firefighters ask themselves, “Did we do the right thing? Did we make the best choices?”

Mental health is a big part of the new conversations at stations. Suicide, alcohol abuse and insomnia can plague first responders.

“We don’t want people going down unhealthy avenues as ways to deal with this new stress,” Hulley said. “We are talking with our crews on a daily basis. We are having more training around mental health than we ever did before and making sure we keep stress at manageable levels.”

“We will continue to strive to provide the best possible care that we always have every single day,” he added. “I am looking forward to a sense of hope rather than one of despair and anxiety. A sense of bravery rather than of fear. … We will move through this and get to the other side stronger and more resilient for what we have all been through.”

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