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Rogers Research Center completes second year of firefighter mental health survey

03/23/22 06:53:pm

For the second year in a row, more than 90% of surveyed Wisconsin firefighters report experiencing a critical incident or a traumatic event on the job.

This is one of many factors Rogers Research Center investigated in the continuation of a firefighter mental health survey developed in collaboration with the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation.

“Given their work, it may not be surprising that they experienced job-related trauma, but it’s notable that this type of recurring trauma brings downstream consequences to physical and mental health and personal relationships for over 70% of firefighters,” says Kelly Piacsek, PhD, vice president of Research. “To me, that’s the importance of this research. We’re not doing this to identify new patients; we’re trying to understand how to prevent firefighters from needing our services.”

A84D6078.JPGDr. Piacsek presented on the findings of the 2020 and 2021 surveys on February 26 at the Wisconsin State Fire Chief Association meeting in Madison.

Both years’ surveys revealed similar findings, however, Dr. Piacsek highlighted the responses related to stigma especially revealing.

71% of firefighters indicated that they believe others think that being treated for behavioral health needs is a sign of personal failure or weakness. However, 64% said they would be comfortable asking for help for themselves and 99% agreed that they would encourage a coworker who needed it to seek mental health support.

“This tells us that most firefighters realize that asking for help for themselves, or their colleagues, is okay, but that many fear judgment from peers that doesn’t necessarily exist. It seems like one of the biggest opportunities here is to change the dialogue,” Dr. Piacsek says.

More takeaways from the latest survey include:

  • Sleep continues to be a problem for firefighters, with 81% reporting at least one issue, such as not feeling rested after a night’s sleep or waking up frequently during the night.
  • 65% of firefighters would like training to assist other firefighters with behavioral health needs.
  • 56% of respondents said they would go to a family member or friend for support, and 50% said they would go to a peer or co-worker.
  • 17% of all respondents screened positive for possible anxiety and 15% for possible depression.
  • While 65% of respondents had been trained on available employee assistance programs/association services, less than 20% have used them.


It was also notable that the 2021 survey was completed by an additional 250 firefighters, about 32% more than the previous year. The latest survey is more representative as well, with an increase in participation from women, volunteers, and firefighters from across the state.

Rogers Research Center plans to continue conducting yearly surveys, with the goal of establishing a baseline after a few more years. Meanwhile, Dr. Piacsek says the survey results help identify programs, resources, and grants that are needed to improve firefighters’ well-being.

“This partnership has been a rewarding opportunity to support our first responders across Wisconsin,” Dr. Piacsek says. “The PFFW Charitable Foundation has been an excellent partner, and we look forward to continuing to work together.”

In recognition of its community partnership, the Research Center recently bestowed the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation with an Annual Research Excellence Award in the category of “External Collaborator.” Read more about the Research Excellence Awards in the February issue of Insight.

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