California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of bills into law on Tuesday that offer additional mental health support to firefighters amid the state’s worsening wildfires in recent years.
The measures, including Assembly Bill 1116 and Senate Bill 542, create peer support programs for firefighters and add post-traumatic stress to the eligible “injuries” that qualify firefighters and law enforcement officers for worker’s compensation to get treatment or take time off.
“The traumatic and unpredictable nature of being a firefighter results in a high-stress working environment that can take an overwhelming mental, emotional, and physical toll on personnel,” the assembly bill reads. “While most firefighters survive the traumas of their jobs, sadly, many experience the impacts of occupational stressors when off duty.”
In 2017, more firefighters and police officers nationwide died by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a study released by the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation.
Newsom, a Democrat, said in a news release that the bills would ensure firefighters “have access to resources and help in their time of need, in the same way they assist their communities when they need them most.”
California has been experiencing record-breaking, worsening wildfires. Last year, the state experienced both its deadliest-ever wildfire, which killed 85 people around the town of Paradise in Northern California, as well as its largest-ever wildfire near Mendocino. The previous year, the state also dealt with some of its worst wildfires.
“I’ve been in the fire service for over 30 years, and I’m horrified at what I’ve seen,” Cal Fire public information officer Jerry Fernandez told HuffPost amid deadly 2017 wildfires near Santa Rosa in Northern California.
Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean told HuffPost that year he had “never seen this amount of death. With 44 people who lost their lives [in October 2017], you just don’t see that.”
In 2018, the Camp fire burned through Paradise just a few hours’ drive away from Santa Rosa, killing 85 people ― nearly twice as many.