Firefighters reveal strain pandemic has had on mental health
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Staying safe while continuing to serve on the frontline has put added pressure on Suffolk's firefighters during the pandemic.
Crews have been battling to stay well enough to continue working, interacting with those on the frontline and often forced to work in close confinement with colleagues and members of the public, all whilst trying to protect their own families at home.
These - plus the regular pressures on firefighters' mental health - are being highlighted as crews prepare for a charity bike ride.
The Longest Ride — an event which will see participants pedal from Land's End to John O'Groats — was postponed because of Covid, but had planned to raise money for The Fire Fighters Charity which rehabilitates firefighters affected by physical and emotional stress of the job.
Now the mission is back on and it has highlighted the new unique challenges this year has created, making the team more aware of their mental wellbeing than ever.
David Edwards, a firefighter from Princes Street station taking part in the bike ride, said: "We used to come to work and really enjoyed the job, but then Covid kicked in and you'd only have so many people at a station at one time.
"There was a lot of stress on the crews, on their interactions with the public, making sure they stay well so they can keep doing the job and distancing from their families.
"The majority of firefighters are on call and have other jobs so during the lockdowns they were worried about those jobs too.
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"I have really struggled with my mental health as well, but we adapt and the best place to be is in a team."
Darren Cooper, station commander, is hoping the bike ride will break down a little of the stigma around mental health and the team of 15 riders and five support crew will be sharing personal stories each day from the trail.
"Everyone saw the impact on mental health in the NHS during the pandemic and it was the same across all blue light services," he said.
"Fire teams were disbanded a lot more and I felt like I was excluded — I am quite strong with my mental health and even I struggled, so we can only guess how it has affected the public."
The Longest Ride is officially relaunching on May 4, International Firefighters Day.