Wildland Firefighter Wellness Cooperative
Bringing Water to Fire
Mental health programs for Wildland Firefighters
Why do Wildland Firefighters need support?
Wildland Firefighters experience rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction, alcoholism, and PTSD at rates up to 10x higher than the average population. This quiet epidemic of poor mental health has been largely unaddressed in the Wildland firefighter community.
Many Wildland Firefighters work tirelessly to protect our forests, homes and communities, and their demanding work can sometimes have negative impacts on physical, mental and emotional health. These men and women work sixteen-hour days for fourteen days straight with extremely inadequate pay and have only two days to rest and recover before going back out on another assignment.
Prolonged periods of arduous labor in smokey, dangerous environments, inadequate rest and nutrition, constant vigilance, prolonged stress and cumulative fatigue can all wreak havoc on the body’s natural equilibrium. Periodic intense, life-threatening situations, near misses or tragic losses can result in trauma, grief and sometimes PTSD, and without the tools or the time to process these experiences some firefighters may turn to unhealthy coping strategies.
As wildfires increase across the globe, now more than ever there is a need to support our firefighters on the front lines.
Nourishing Wholesome Activity
How does this program support Wildland Firefighters?
We offer mental health programs for Wildland Firefighters in the lush rainforest of Costa Rica.
Our programs are facilitated by former Wildland Firefighters who specialize in mental health and spiritual practice. These facilitators help firefighter's to process trauma through nervous system recovery, mental and emotional health support, and meaningful connection to nature. In exchange, firefighters use their forestry skills to help us protect 7,500 acres of Eco Era's pristine rainforest.
Our upcoming program, offered in February 2022, will integrate health and wellness for firefighters while providing invaluable restoration work to the rainforest.
Evan is a facilitator of this program. He has been fighting fire since 2003. He was a Midnight Sun Hot Shot before becoming a Smokejumper in 2009. He has been specially trained in crisis prevention and intervention. He facilitates group counsels for cancer patients, Wildland firefighters and EMT's. Evan left firefighting to pursue mental health and wellness initiatives for men after his own healing journey with cancer.
Anna is a licensed occupational therapist and trauma-informed somatic coach focused on nervous system regulation and emotional literacy. She weaves together clinical knowledge of the body, earth based teachings, mindfulness studies, and years of working with clients with complex traumas and special needs. Anna creates gentle and safe spaces for the unlearning of harmful beliefs as a pathway for people to express their genuine self.
Russell is rainforest project manager of Eco Era. He has been fighting wildfires since 2001. He was an Idaho City Hot Shot for 5 years until he became an Alaska Smokejumper in 2014. Russell is a Zen Buddhist practitioner devoted to helping others reach understanding through mediative practice. He now works as a private consultant for spiritual centers in high danger fire zones.
Facilitated for Wildland Firefighters by Wildland Firefighters
“The key to enlightenment is that everything is ‘chopping wood and carrying water’ and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same.” - Zen Proverb
Through mindfulness practice, we teach firefighters to connect to the physical work they do through the deeper levels of their heart and psyche. This embodied way of practice helps create a sense of lasting peace and fulfillment.
By creating a sacred space, leading council circles, and having discussions to promote the release and processing of repressed emotions, people in a period of un-wellness can take steps toward reclaiming their wellness. By incorporating these discussions into a meaningful work practice, the gates open to individuals hearts and allow vulnerability to emerge in an environment that is comfortable and relatable to them.
Mediation is practiced in this program as a means to establish a sense of inner peace and calm. The practice of sitting still and focused helps slow down thoughts and let them pass as they come. A daily practice of meditation creates a foundation for the nervous system to begin to relax and let go of stress responses. A greater sense of well-being naturally arises accompanied by feelings of compassion for others and an ability to leave unhealthy coping mechanism behind.
The ritual practice of Temezcal, or sweat lodge, is an ancient method of releasing stagnant stress, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Oftentimes people experience this ritual as a complete reset or rebirth.
Ritual practice helps create trust and support within groups through aligning behavior and creating shared experiences. Rituals create a sense of belonging and common identity.
CONNECTION TO NATURE
This program takes place in a deep pocket of nature. Every activity is itegrated into a relationship with the natural world. We practice like this to create inner balance with nature that teaches us to receive support from this earth, and live in harmony with the seasons, rhythms, waters and forests, animals and plant life of our planet. Our bodies have the inherent ability to establish, maintain, and restore health. This internal healing is supported by our connection with nature.
NERVOUS SYSTEM RECOVERY
Rest is vital for better mental health, increased concentration, a healthier immune system, reduced stress, and improved mood. The location of our space is deeply supportive to rest and rejuvenation. The sound of the forest, the river, and the peaceful, safe energy cultivated in this space allows people to fully let go, drop their guard and experience a true state of relaxation, unaccompanied by feelings of restlessness or boredom.