NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE INVESTIGATORS
Sept. 18 - 21, 2017
Hilton Lexington/Downtown, Lexington KY
• NAFI’s most popular training program
• Live burns and evaluations
• CVFI prep and testing
• In depth training on NFPA 921
of weakness and of being “less than a man,” surveys may under-report the incidence.
Anecdotally, many firefighters and fire instructors have reported
to me that it is a serious problem in their departments. In conversations, there often is a long pause followed by mention of a
firefighter “lost to suicide” within the past year.
How can firefighters care for themselves and others? For the
firefighter, knowing that he or she is part of the solution, not part
of the problem, is very important. Having good education and
training in emotional as well as physical rescue is crucial.
What are some of the components of a good response to trauma?
An important intervention is psychological first aid within the first
four days posttrauma. After four days, the value of psychological
first aid has been questioned.
There are eight core components to psychological first aid,
including the following:
• Use of a nonintrusive, compassionate, and helpful approach.
• Immediately ensuring physical safety and comfort.
• Emotional stabilization by reassurance and containment.
• Obtaining information to prioritize needs, concerns, and subsequent interventions.
• Practical assistance for immediate needs and concerns.
• Connecting the person or persons with social supports (i.e.,
family, friends, or community).
• Educating the person or persons about what are normal stress
responses and coping strategies.
• Ensuring that the person or persons are connected with services
needed both immediately and in the future.
This is a daunting list for firefighters trained to use hydraulic rescue
tools but not trained in psychological or social service rescue work.
Clearly, here is a need and a role for a fire department chaplain.
For the first responder firefighter, a healthy use of such psychological defenses as suppression (not repression) of emotions
(putting them temporarily in a box), rationalization and intellectualization, as well as empathy and compassion for the victims and
for oneself is beneficial.
What is NOT HELPFUL is the use of intensive psychological debriefing such as ventilation by describing the events surrounding the trauma in detail. Use of benzodiazepines is also
contraindicated. Research has shown that both interventions can
actually worsen the problem. They can enhance consolidation
and entrenchment of emotional memories and delay or prevent a
normal spontaneous recovery.
In the face of all this disturbing information, it is very heartening
to learn about efforts by fire departments, fire organizations, and
firefighters to increase awareness, educate, and develop plans and
strategies for a “first response” to signs and symptoms of possible
PTSD, depression, and suicide risk.
There is also a developing awareness that, by breaking the macho
culture of silence and denial at the firehouse level, appropriate and