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‘I’ve had to cry sometimes’ - Fire service opens up about mental health

PUBLISHED: 08:47 26 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:47 26 March 2020

New assistant chief fire officers, Tim Edwards, left, and Scott Norman. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

New assistant chief fire officers, Tim Edwards, left, and Scott Norman. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2020

Trauma can be a daily occurrence for emergency service workers but how do they safeguard their own mental health? Ruth Lawes speak to Norfolk fire service about their experiences and the measures in place to protect staff.

New assistant chief fire officer, Tim Edwards, talks about mental health wellbeing in the fire service. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNew assistant chief fire officer, Tim Edwards, talks about mental health wellbeing in the fire service. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Tim Edwards, assistant fire chief officer, from King’s Lynn, joined the fire service in 1990 and said, back then, there were few conversations around mental health.

The 47-year-old said: “I have noticed a huge difference in the approach toward mental health. We didn’t like to talk about it, although it was a societal issue and not just exclusive to the fire service.

New assistant chief fire officer, Scott Norman, talks about mental health wellbeing in the fire service. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNew assistant chief fire officer, Scott Norman, talks about mental health wellbeing in the fire service. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“Now we are breaking down stigmas and within the team we are able to talk about it and address it head-on.”

It comes as figures from Norfolk fire service reveal the days taken off work by fire service staff due to mental health issues have nearly doubled in the past three years from 722 days in 2017 to 1308 days in 2019. However, not all of these days are related to work.

New assistant chief fire officers, Tim Edwards, left, and Scott Norman. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNew assistant chief fire officers, Tim Edwards, left, and Scott Norman. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Edwards said: “I have seen in an increase in the number of days taken off due to mental health as it is easier to talk about these days and more people are open as to why they need to take days off which is encouraging.”

Figures published by the Home Office show Norfolk firefighters have attended to 22,473 incidents for the past three years (2017 – 2019). Across this period there were 469 deaths.

Mr Edwards said: “Very traumatic incidents can take a toll on mental health. But stress can also be related to seasons. Christmas time can be particularly tough and not necessarily because there is an increase in accidents but because it is the festive season.”

“But the job has an unpredictable nature for example there are have a string of deaths on Norfolk roads recently.”

Mr Edwards said he has needed to cry and talk sometimes.

He added: “Fortunately I am able to be open and I want to break that stigma and encourage discussion.”

Norfolk fire service also has trauma risk management (TRiM) in place to offer support and guidance to staff.

Scott Norman, assistant fire chief officer, added: “Everyone is being encouraged to open up and share.”

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