A Pacific Beach Middle School student presented his community project on firefighter wellness to the firefighters at Station 21 on Thursday, May 2. Eighth-grader Kai Clark, 14, displayed two large boards; one with facts and information about the health issues firefighters face on a daily basis and one filled with messages of gratitude and thanks for the Station 21 crew.
Clark said that he was inspired to do this project after he went on a tour of the station and did a ride along with the firefighters. It was there he learned that in addition to the life-threatening situations they’re exposed to on a regular basis, they also face high rates of cancer (65 percent) and suicide (more firefighters die by suicide than in the line of duty).
Rob Fox, a Station 21 firefighter, said projects like Clark’s help bring awareness to the unique stress of this job.
“People don’t realize that 90 percent of our calls are medical, with most of them happening at night,” Fox said. "So there’s a lot of sleep pattern disruptions when you’re doing that five, six times a night. It can really mess with your hormones, your heart, things like that.”
Because of this unpredictable schedule, Fox said that firefighters have to be extra diligent in taking care of their physical and mental health on their off days. After being a firefighter for 18 years, he’s found that surfing, yoga, meditating and exercising really help.
“It’s all about finding something to calm you down so you can hit the reset button after your shift,” he said. “That’s why we have 24 hours off. And sometimes, even that’s not enough.”
He’s hopeful that projects like Clark’s will bring recognition to the reality of what firefighters go through — which is something even they hadn’t always taken seriously.
“Until people started to bring it to our awareness, I don’t think it’s something we really took into consideration,” firefighter paramedic Chris Brown told Clark after his presentation. “But these things you’re looking into are really helping a lot of people. So thank you."
Clark will present his community service project to a panel on May 20. For more information about PBMS’ projects, visit sandiegounified.org.