Firefighter Friends Can Ease Job Stress But Loving Spouses May Increase Anxiety
Mon, October 25, 2021

Firefighter Friends Can Ease Job Stress But Loving Spouses May Increase Anxiety

Firefighters are known for dedicating their lives to the fire service. It’s no easy task working 24-hour shifts and responding to explosions, fires, medical emergencies, and automobile accidents / Photo by: SanchaiRat via Shutterstock

 

Firefighters are known for dedicating their lives to the fire service. It’s no easy task working 24-hour shifts and responding to explosions, fires, medical emergencies, and automobile accidents. A new study shows that same-sex friendships among male firefighters can help ease their job stress but their loving relationship with their wife may increase their anxiety as they constantly face danger.

Brotherhood of Firefighters

A team of researchers from Baylor University explained that 90 percent of firefighters are males. While they have a sincere desire and dedication to help others, they also have the personal desire to protect their wives from awareness of the emotional trauma and risks of their job. Such a concern can add to their anxiety to an already considerable burden of helping other people, says Baylor University’s professor of communication studies and lead author of the study, Mark T. Morman, Ph.D. 

Morman said via research platform Science Daily that firefighters are trained and mandated to “leave it at the firehouse.” They are constantly exposed to various dangers, including physical injury, exposure to hazardous chemicals and smoke, intense emotional stress, cardiovascular events, and risky rescue and recovery. 

As these people are serving the public, they also have to deal with what could be the worst days of their lives (e.g. deaths and injuries of their work colleagues), and their job itself can be a threat to their mortality. The United States Fire Administration shared that 83 firefighters died in 2018 and the cause of their death was in line with their duty. 

A High Rate of PTSD Among Firefighters

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the federal agency of the United States responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness, has also said that firefighters face higher rates of sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, depression, alcoholism, and tobacco use compared to other occupations. However, they are also a group of people who are more likely to refuse to get mental health support.

Ironically, their characteristics of being strong, stoic, other-oriented, and protective that drew them to the firefighting profession are the same characteristics that prevent them from asking for help with how they process their mental health and emotions.

Firefighters face higher rates of sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, depression, alcoholism, and tobacco use compared to other occupations / Photo by: Chanintorn.v via Shutterstock

 

To come up with their theory, the team analyzed the data of 428 male firefighters from different fire departments in Texas of varied sizes. Out of the over 400 male subjects, 77 percent of them are married and 14 percent of them are single. Their marriages range from one month to 40 years and their time in the firefighting service ranged from four months to 41 years. Those who reported close friendships with their same-sex co-firefighters had friendships that lasted from two months to 45 years.

Morman and colleagues found that the “relationship quality with both wife and firefighter friend emerged as significant, positive predictors of job satisfaction and quality of work-life (QWL).” Additionally, they have a good buffer against work-related stress if they have good relationships with their co-firefighters. This is not, however, the case with their significant other.

The Marriage Effect in the Fire Service

The “marriage effect” came as a surprise to the team. Generally, individuals who have strong emotional support from family members, co-workers, friends, and spouses, experience less depression and have a longer life expectancy and stronger immune systems. Married men also generally take less personal risks than divorced or single men. They have wives who promote their preventive behavior and better health regulation. 

This is not the case with the lifestyle of firefighters. They are people who work and live consecutive days a week in a masculine and multi-generational environment. They combine their home life and work-life watching TV, cooking, showering, sleeping, maintaining equipment, cleaning, and playing games. This leads to close friendships between men, wherein there is also less competition, less criticism, better conflict management, and more self-disclosure. 

When they come home, though, they feel the need to fake or hide their emotions. Sometimes, they try to match the emotion they feel is required or desired by the spouses who are asking about their work. Over time, it becomes emotionally taxing for them to maintain the appearance of being stoic and strong and it lessens their job satisfaction.

Morman added that there is a need to investigate how friend and partner quality function in different and similar ways for female firefighters, considering the hyper-masculine nature of firehouses. They noted that it would be valuable if future studies consider a larger ethnic representation of firefighters and geographic location. The co-authors of the study were Paul Schrodt and Amber Adamson. Their work also appeared in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The US Fire Administration has stated that there were 1,319,500 fires in 2017. All of these happened in the US alone. There were 3,400 people who died and 14,670 injured. The total loss amounted to $23.0 billion in 2017, a decline of 12.0 percent from 2008.

Generally, individuals who have strong emotional support from family members, co-workers, friends, and spouses, experience less depression and have a longer life expectancy and stronger immune systems / Photo by: Andrii Kobryn via Shutterstock