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effective interventions can provide the needed safety valve immediately after severe traumatic exposures.
In my very recent and brief introduction to the extent of PTSD
and suicide among firefighters, I have been impressed by the work
of people in the fire service to speak out and address these problems.
This is undoubtedly a small sample of those concerned about the
emotional safety and well-being of firefighters around the country.
At the April 2017 Fire Department Instructors Conference
International, I was fortunate to hear Jeremy Hurd’s presentation,
“Help, This Job Is Killing Me.” He spoke about a statewide initiative in Florida to develop strategies and training for firefighter and
fire departments. There is a Florida Firefighters Safety and Health
Collaborative ( www.floridafirefightersafety.org).
Matt Olson, who helped create the Fire Fighter Peer Support
program in Illinois, described the important work there (www.
Michael Ung, a member of the national champion Blackheart
Extraction Team, informed me about The Brotherhood Initiative
started by his union, Local 1403 ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
FireRescue and Fire Engineering are providing media leadership by
featuring relevant articles including the following:
• “Creating the Illinois Fire Fighter Peer Support Team,” Matt
Olson, FireRescue, August 2016.
• “Addressing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Fire Service,”
Christine Pay and Jana Tran, FireRescue, March 2017.
• “Firefighter Family Tragedy and Loss,” Jeremy Hurd, Fire Engineering, March 2017.
So, where does all this information leave us? Hopefully, it leaves
us with an awareness and understanding of some key points.
• Witnessing serious trauma is an expected part of a firefighter’s
• The human body has a very effective and tightly regulated
response system to danger and severe stress.
• Certain emotional and physical responses are a normal and
expectable part of an acute stress response.
• Emotional rescue is as important as physical rescue.
• Psychological first aid is an important intervention within the
first four days.
• Two harmful emergency interventions to be avoided are intensive psychological debriefing and the use of benzodiazepines.
• It is extremely important for firefighters to develop and
maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Tending to one’s
interpersonal relationships and avoiding abuse of alcohol or
drugs (prescribed or illegal) are crucial.
Working as a firefighter can “eat you alive,” destroying a person
physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But ... this does not need to
Karen Bradley, M.D., is a physician psychiatrist who retired after 30 years from
her active private practice. Since then, she has worked as a volunteer psychiatrist in Cleveland, Ohio, and Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Bradley is a clinical advisor for
environmental health and safety for Turtle Plastics, a company founded and owned
by her husband, Tom Norton. She can be reached at email@example.com.