This is what the most destructive wildfire in California history looks like. Spanning an area of nearly 240 square miles, the Camp Fire did $16.5 billion of damage in the 17 days it ravaged Butte County. Worse still is the human impact of a disaster visible from space. At least 85 people lost their lives, with many more injured. For the firefighters and other first responders who rushed to the scene, the fight is not yet over.
The majority of the first responders who arrived on the scene in the first hours of the Camp Fire were members of the Paradise community. Risking their lives and their own homes to limit the damage, these firefighters and police officers worked for days on end. The traditional 24 hours on, 24 hours off schedule was abandoned in the face of a relentless foe. After all was said and done, many found themselves homeless too.
Losing one’s home is in itself a traumatic event. The first six hours of the fire destroyed Concow and Paradise outright, with several other communities severely affected. The effects of such a tragic disaster endure for years, if not a lifetime. Beyond the financial cost, smoke from the fire spread around the state. Sacramento was hit particularly hard, becoming the most polluted city on earth. The emotional impact, however, can’t be overstated.
Like members of our armed forces, first responders are exposed to things that civilians rarely, if ever, experience. A career’s worth of accumulated stress and trauma make our public servants especially susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once seen, the horrors of this scale of tragedy cannot be unseen. Individuals with PTSD often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and process their experiences. This puts them at a much higher risk of substance abuse as well.
When substance abuse occurs, there are often underlying factors motivating the decision to use. In the addiction treatment field, we call these factors a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis. In short, if a mental health issue like depression, bipolar disorder or PTSD is present alongside substance abuse, resolving that issue is just as important as treating the addiction.
California has no shortage of free resources for those with PTSD. The Code Green Campaign, a first responder-oriented mental health advocacy organization, solely focuses on first responders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides an excellent overview of options for veterans and first responders alike.
If substance abuse has progressed alongside the trauma, a comprehensive addiction treatment program may be a good next step. True North Recovery Services specializes in helping first responders address their experiences and move forward. If you or someone you know need help or just someone to talk to, take a look at our approach or give our team a call at (760) 517-6544.