The emotional toll of a firefighter: 'You definitely think about your kids when you're done'

A behind-the-scenes look at how firefighters go beyond the flames to protect the community.

MESA, Ariz. - Firefighter might be one of the most misleading job titles in Arizona. Yes, fighting fires is part of the gig but it's a very small part of a day with dozens of 911 calls.

"It could be anything from changing a smoke detector battery to cardiac arrest and anything in between," says Captain Jeff Stieber at Station 208 in Mesa.

In fact, Stieber says 80 percent of the calls he and his crew respond to don't involve fire at all. 

"Our title is so much more. We’ve become so effective in just taking care of the vulnerable needs in our community," says Geoffrey Gordon who is a firefighter and medic at station 208.

These days, firefighters have become well-versed in the areas of social work and mental health as well. When you call 911, firefighters may be the first ones to arrive which puts them in various types of emergency situations. Being a first responder also forces you to see some gruesome and traumatic events.

"You definitely think about your kids when you are done," Stieber says. "Sometimes it helps to call them afterwards and talk through it. That stuff sticks with you for days, weeks and even years."

There is always somebody on call to talk if these men and women need help getting through the mental aspect of their job, and the city allows them to go out of service for a time as well. 

"Some calls affect you more than others," Gordon says, referencing calls with young kids and child drowning situations.

It's a job that's often misunderstood by the general public. These types of traumatic calls can sometimes happen multiple times in one 24-hour shift and getting over the mental and physical trauma from a previous call is paramount to success. It's a really hard job.

"I love it though," Stieber says. "I like to help people."

A lot of us will need help at some point, and guess who may be the first people there?

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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