In a new story for PEW Stateline, writer Aallyah Wright reports on the mountain of stress rural firefighters are under. With the added burden of the current pandemic and looming COVID-19 vaccination mandates, rural fire stations expect to see a significant loss in manpower in areas where departments are already stretched to the breaking point.

From the story: “Rural firefighters have been on the front lines of the pandemic, tackling wildfires and vehicle accidents even as they transport ill and injured residents to hospitals. COVID-19’s heavy toll on rural hospitals has extended to emergency responders, meaning firefighters are answering more medical calls than ever before. The increased workload, and the specter of vaccine mandates, has made recruitment even tougher.

And then there’s the trauma they’ve endured.

The mass death and suffering of the past 20 months has spawned a surge of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia and substance use disorder among health care professionals of all kinds. Answering calls at the homes of relatives, friends and neighbors—which many rural firefighters have had to do—magnifies the pain.

“We’re still in this pandemic, and we’re still fighting those emotions. It’s not [as if] it happened three years ago,” said Jeff Dill, founder of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, which runs mental health workshops for fire departments. “We’ve had numerous firefighters that have taken their lives because of it—seeing and handling the stress and the depression and the bodies that piled up.”

Volunteer firefighters can only do so much, and with greater distances to travel to render aid, transport medical cases and fight fires, the number of PTSD diagnoses have skyrocketed.

To read the rest of the story on Stateline, click here.