Houston firefighters open up about stress of the job

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Firefighters are known for their heroic efforts to save lives, homes, and buildings. But there's another side of their business that is rarely discussed - the human toll the job takes on those in the line of duty.

"It's a secret, if you will, within the fire service, that post-traumatic stress disorder is a huge problem among the fire service," said Houston Fire Department psychologist Dr. Sam Buser. "Firefighters more than any other group phase the most traumatic events that are going to occur in our safety."

It is a stress like no other that can take a dangerous toll. To prevent it, HFD developed a critical incident stress management or CISM team that holds meetings like this one after an incident.

Eyewitness news cameras sat in on a mock meeting, where one-by-one they open up about their feelings. Cameras are not allowed in real meetings because one of the promises made is confidentiality. There is no ego or rank, just one firefighter to another. Emotions are still raw, honest, and real, especially after the loss of one of their own.

Senior Captain Isabel Sky-Eagle was there the day a fellow firefighter collapsed while battling a fire.

"Seeing this person from the very beginning when this person is suffering just makes it that much more difficult," Sky-Eagle said.

It was an experience she couldn't shake until she went to her first CISM meeting.

"It was a really good experience for me. The resolution and how I transitioned afterwards. I don't know if that would've happened if I had not attended the CISM," Sky-Eagle said.

The team is made up entirely of specially trained firefighters who volunteer their time. In 2013, the team responded to more than 2,000 calls from their peers - proof that even heroes need help once in a while.

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.