4 in 10 South Korean fire officials have mental health concerns: Report

The survey underscores the urgent necessity to address the mental health concerns of fire officials, particularly in light of the recent tragic loss of two firefighters.

Lee Jung-joo

Lee Jung-joo

The Korea Herald


February 5, 2024

SEOUL – Four out of 10 fire officials were found to have suffered from mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disorder, according to survey results released by the National Fire Agency on Sunday.

The survey underscores the urgent necessity to address the mental health concerns of fire officials, particularly in light of the recent tragic loss of two firefighters, shedding light on the challenging working environments they face. The two were trapped while responding to a fire at a four-story meat processing factory in North Gyeongsang Province last week.

According to the Fire Officials’ Mental Health Survey conducted with 52,802 fire officials from March to May 2023 in conjunction with Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, 43.9 percent, or 23,060 fire officials, were at risk for at least one out of four major mental disorders: PTSD, depression, sleep disorders or excessive alcohol use.

By each mental disorder, 27.2 percent of respondents answered they had been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, while 26.4 percent answered excessive alcohol use. Additionally, 6.5 percent answered that they had PTSD and 6.3 answered they had depression. Survey respondents were able to select more than one category.

Compared to the year before, fire officials who suffered from PTSD, depression and excessive alcohol use increased by 6.5 percentage points, 1.3 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points, respectively. Fire officials suffering from sleep disorders decreased by 2.6 percentage points.

Additionally, 2,587, or 4.9 percent, of survey respondents were also labeled as high-risk for suicide, while 4,465, or 8.5 percent, of respondents reported having “suicidal thoughts at least once in the past year.”

Currently, a mental care center for fire officials is being built in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, scheduled to be completed by 2026.

Meanwhile, for the past 20 years, the National Fire Agency has not allocated a separate budget to fund memorial services for fallen firefighters, according to data provided by the National Fire Agency and Daejeon Regional Office of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

A memorial service for fallen firefighters has been held every year at Daejeon National Cemetery since 2004. The memorial service held in 2023 was its 20th service and was organized by the National Fire Agency, hosted by the Memorial Association and funded by the ministry’s regional office in Daejeon.

The budget for 2023’s memorial service totaled 50 million won ($37,400), to which the regional office in Daejeon provided 40 million won out of government funds and the Memorial Association provided 10 million won. However this year, the Daejeon Regional Office’s 40 million won in government subsidies has been cut by 30 percent, totaling 28.8 million won.

On this topic, the National Fire Agency said it has set aside 100 million won for the first time to honor fallen firefighters this year. Out of its total budget, 50 million won will go toward providing memorial gifts for fallen firefighters’ families, while the remainder will go toward funding the construction of a memorial road for six fallen firefighters who died while extinguishing a fire at a two-story residential house in Hongje-dong, western Seoul, in 2001.

The National Fire Agency said 42 firefighters died on the job from 2014 to 2024, including the two firefighters who lost their lives last week.

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