Managing the heat: UM student studies mental health effects of firefighting

Raequel Roberts UM News Service

For seven years, University of Montana student Luke Santore worked on and off as a wildland firefighter, battling blazes in states throughout the West. The work was physically grueling, the frontline conditions dangerous and the social life isolating at best.

But it was the off season he dreaded most.

It was then — the “winters of vice” as he calls it — that Santore went face-to-face with the mental health issues and chemical dependencies that had driven him to drop out of his studies at UM on several occasions and enroll as a firefighter for one of the many private contractors in the field.

He would go on to work for seven years in firefighting, two of those years for the U.S. Forest Service.

“I had mental health and learning disorders that went undiagnosed for a long time, and I came from a family that had access to care,” he said. “What if you don’t have that access? Undiagnosed mental conditions, of course, aren’t that unusual.”

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Particularly, he has since come to learn, in a student study he conducted on firefighter mental health.

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