Can You Be a Firefighter with Mental Illness? (Anxiety/Depression)

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The testing process to become a firefighter has many steps and requirements. They are looking to make sure each candidate is fit for the job, both physically and mentally. You may be wondering if you have what it takes and will be able to pass all the hiring steps. Can you be a firefighter with mental illness?

You can be a firefighter with a mental illness, but it will depend on how severe the illness is and how it is managed. You will need to show that you can meet all the required standards and are able to safely perform all the job tasks of a firefighter.

Mental illness is a broad category and some mental conditions may very well keep you form being a firefighter, due to safety. However, many others will not prevent you from getting a fire job. Let’s talk more about the guidelines fire departments use to screen candidates. We will also look at a few specific mental illnesses and see how they will affect your chances of becoming a firefighter.

Also read: Can You Be a Firefighter with a Disability? What You Should Know

Note: None of the information in this article is medical advice. We are simply outlining the guidelines of NFPA 1582 based on research and experience.

NFPA Standard 1582: Medical Clearance

Most fire departments will use the standards set by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) for many aspects of the job. These standards are not requirements, but they are industry-standard best practices.

One of these standards is NFPA 1582 which is the Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments. This standard has specific guidelines for deciding whether a candidate is mentally and physically fit to work as a firefighter.

In this standard, they layout 14 essential job tasks that all firefighters must be able to perform. Here is a summarized list of these tasks:

  1. While wearing full firefighting gear, perform firefighting tasks, rescue operations, and emergency response operations under stressful conditions, including hot and cold exposure.
  2. The ability to wear a positive-pressure SCBA (air pack) and tolerate increased respiratory workloads
  3. Exposure to toxic and infectious substances and heated gases
  4. Climb 6+ flights of stairs with full firefighting gear (50+ pounds) plus tools (20-40+ pounds)
  5. Wear full firefighting gear and tolerate the fluid loss and dehydration, as well as core temperature above 102.2 Fahrenheit (39 C)
  6. Working by yourself in full gear performing search and rescue, carrying victims up to 165 pounds while in hazardous, low visibility conditions
  7. In full gear, pull hose-lines approximately 150 feet, upstairs, ladders and over/around other obstacles
  8. In full gear, climb ladders, work at heights, crawl in the dark in narrow or on uneven surfaces that are wet or icy, and operate near electrical power lines and other hazards
  9. Handle unpredictable extreme physical exertion without warm-up, scheduled rest, meals, medications or hydration
  10. Operate fire apparatus with lights and sirens
  11. Time-sensitive, problem-solving during physical exertion, in stressful, hot, dark, hazardous, tightly enclosed space, made more difficult by fatigue and distractions
  12. Ability to communicate in full gear with background noise, poor visibility and large amounts of water from suppression efforts
  13. Function as part of a team, where sudden incapacitation of a member can cause injury or death to crew or the public
  14. Working shifts over 12 hours, including at night

Each fire department will decide if all these tasks and guidelines apply to the work they require of their firefighters. They may make adjustments to these qualifications. They will make the final decisions of who they will hire.

In addition to outlining the above firefighter tasks, NFPA 1582 puts many specific medical conditions into each Category A or Category B.

  • Category A conditions usually mean that the candidate will automatically be disqualified from the hiring process (unless they meet the specific criteria for that condition)
  • Category B conditions are allowed in NFPA 1582, as long as the candidate can perform all 14 essential job tasks of a firefighter (above)

For further details about NFPA 1582 see the NFPA website, as well as this articlethis article, and this PDF.

This video talks about some myths related to NFPA 1582:

Let’s look at what NFPA 1582 says about a few specific mental health conditions.

Can You Be a Firefighter with Anxiety?

You can be a firefighter with anxiety, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your ability to safely perform the job. However, people with severe anxiety may have trouble dealing with the stress of being a firefighter and may not qualify. Certain medications may preclude you from being a firefighter.

NFPA 1582 states that anxiety disorders are in Category B. This means you can be a firefighter with anxiety, after you have evaluated by a qualified mental health professional, as long as you meet the following criteria:

  • You are compliant with any indicated treatment
  • There are no disqualifying side effects from the treatment
  • Treatment of comorbidities including sleep and substance abuse issues
  • Your evaluation shows that your condition does not interfere with your ability to perform all job duties
  • Show that you can perform all 14 essential job tasks listed above
  • Not treated with any prohibited anxiety medications, such as: Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, Clonidine

Can You Be a Firefighter with Depression?

You can be a firefighter with depression, so long as it doesn’t affect your job performance as a firefighter. There may be people with depression that cannot be firefighters based on severity or treatment.

The NFPA 1582 standard categorizes depressive disorders as a Category B condition. Therefore, you can be a firefighter with depression, after you are evaluated by a mental health professional, provided you meet all the following criteria:

  • You are compliant with any indicated treatment
  • There are no disqualifying side effects from the treatment
  • Treatment of comorbidities including sleep and substance abuse issues
  • No suicide attempts in the last year
  • Your evaluation shows that your condition does not interfere with your ability to perform all job duties
  • Show that you can perform all 14 essential job tasks listed above
  • Not treated with any prohibited depression medications, such as Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, or medical marijuana

Here are some tips to help manage depression.

Can You Be a Firefighter if You Are Bipolar?

You can be a firefighter if you are bipolar, as long as you meet all the criteria in NFPA 1582, you can perform all the essential job tasks and you aren’t taking any of the prohibited medications.

NFPA 1582 lists Bipolar disorder as a category B condition, so you can be a firefighter as long as you are evaluated by a mental health professional, and you meet all the following:

  • You are compliant with any indicated treatment
  • There are no disqualifying side effects from the treatment
  • Treatment of comorbidities including sleep and substance abuse issues
  • No suicide attempts in the last year
  • No manic episodes in the last year
  • Your evaluation shows that your condition does not interfere with your ability to perform all job duties
  • Show that you can perform all 14 essential job tasks listed above
  • Not treated with any prohibited bipolar medications, such as: Xanax, or Clonidine

Can You Be a Firefighter with Schizophrenia?

Whether or not you can be a firefighter with Schizophrenia will depend on how severe the condition is and if you are able to pass all the required criteria outlined in NFPA 1582, as well as perform all 14 essential job tasks.

NFPA 1582 lists Schizophrenia as a category B condition, which means that you can be a firefighter, as long as you are evaluated by a mental health professional, and you meet all the following:

  • You are compliant with any indicated treatment
  • There are no disqualifying side effects from the treatment
  • Treatment of comorbidities including sleep and substance abuse issues
  • No psychotic episodes in the last year
  • No suicide attempts in the last year
  • Your evaluation shows that your condition does not interfere with your ability to perform all job duties
  • Show that you can perform all 14 essential job tasks listed above
  • Not treated with any prohibited bipolar medications, such as: Xanax, Klonopin, Clonidine, or Valium

Conclusion

Not everyone is fit to be a firefighter. However, that does not mean that everyone with mental illness cannot be firefighters. It will depend on each condition, severity, and treatment.

If you are looking into becoming a firefighter, you need to do your research to make sure you have what it takes and do everything to prepare yourself.

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