Health concerns for those firefighters who have been fighting the fires on our behalf and also those people who have been affected by the fires
The bushfire smoke haze plaguing Australian bushfire regions has turned the sky an eerie shade of yellow and the sun a menacing hue of red.
Australia is in a state of emergency. Evacuations have been ordered, 28 missing, 8 dead, and so far 1300 homes destroyed. We have had a horror week of fires, and conditions are predicting the horror will continue into the weekend. Just listening to the ABC radio which has become a source of lifeline in the communities which have lost power, with little WiFi or 4G network communication with the world. One volunteer firefighter said he had been fighting fires for 20 hours and fighting spot fires – then the wind spun around to the northwest, and a Storm came over the horizon. They thought surely now we can rest. Instead of rain it bought lightening strikes and next minute there was dense acrid black coming up the valley towards them…
“We’ve been breathing this smoke for days now”
“We’ve sent the kids away to Albury, but as you know the air quality there is Bad”
There is a concern about ongoing Acute Health Impacts as a result of the Bushfire smoke.
The smoke from bushfires consists of a complex mix of particles and gases, and has a significant and measurable impact on human health.
There is heightened state of anxiety and stress amongst the firefighters and people trying to survive this crisis. The firefighter on the radio continued… “They have been coughing up crap and trying to working in this bad air quality”.
Bushfires are accompanied by a range of acute health impacts, and an increase in the number of patients seeking emergency services.
Adverse health impacts include:
• Respiratory conditions
• Heart problems
• Heat stress
• Longer term impacts on mental health
Bushfires and Air quality research on Fine Particulate matter
A study on the health effects of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere has shown that exposure to this material is associated with increased hospital admissions for a wider range of medical conditions than are usually blamed on pollution. These tiny particles come from car and truck exhausts, coal-fired power stations and bushfires. A recent ABC interview with Norman Swan and Professor Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician and co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative discussed the details of this study.
But even when these fires are over its effects are being felt far outside the regions. In the aftermath of the fires, the physical damage to the region is immediately apparent.
Less clear is the effect such an event has on the mental health of career firefighters, volunteers and landholders, who faced walls of flames for days on end.
Historically, in the months after fires in WA, there were two deaths by suicide and a number of attempts, as the community experienced high levels of anxiety.
Clinical psychologist Dr Heather Bancroft said the effects of a bush-fire, both good and bad, could be experienced long after the event.
Local farmers are doing 20 hour shifts fighting the fires, then coming back and trying to secure their own livelihoods.
Recent research by Dr Bancroft has discovered that career firefighters who had high job satisfaction because of aspects like shiftwork, physical fitness requirements, and the responsibility of the job, had fewer symptoms of PTSD and depression. However in this bushfire crisis, we have a wider group impacted including career firefighters, volunteers and everyday people.
Recently, Wanngi founder and CEO Maree Beare sat down with Tina Winchester on her podcast, Careers & Mental Health Conversation, Tina’s passion is advocating for mental health awareness in the workplace. In this interview Tina discussed what to take notice of “Just like a physical condition, some mental health days will be more painful than others. It’s important to track the symptoms of your mental health, the same way you would for any physical symptoms. Tracking your mental state can help you understand triggers for your moods. Likewise, it allows you to collect clear information to discuss with your doctor. “
How can Wanngi help?
How can Wanngi help? Research on Fine Particle matter indicates increased hospital admissions. You will find it helpful to have tracked your symptoms over time if you have been breathing in the bushfire smoke. Also, having your health history on hand in Wanngi will enable you to communicate with health professionals more effectively and help you be diagnosed.
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Donations to the bushfire
For those wanting to provide support to those people impacted with support now and after the bushfires have ended. Here’s a quick list of donation sites for good causes you can search & donate to: (we will continue to update)
Google now has an map with the status of Fires