The Fire Service has a long history and tradition of serving citizens as well as other public safety personnel in the midst of disaster and tragedy. In every kind of emergency, the public looks to the firefighter to rescue people and property, which is a heightened challenge in the post-9/11 era.
While fire service personnel today may receive more recognition from the public, this does not alleviate the stressors that they must face. Firefighters continue to deal with the cumulative stress of everyday calls, punctuated by the critical incidents and large-scale deployments that can occur due to man-made and natural disasters. To cope with these expanded challenges, individual firefighters, supervisors, and family members need training and preparation to meet their unique needs.
When it comes to recommendations on how to cope with disaster, we have found that fire personnel are most comfortable with the advice of their peers who have experienced large-scale traumatic events. This peer-related advice is demonstrated in materials 7-Dippity developed for fire service personnel post-911. Here are just a few of the many lessons learned by fire service personnel:
Lessons learned from 9/11 responders offer the following tips for coping:
- Increase support from your family at home by helping them understand your work culture and getting to know your work "family." Knowledge about your work responsibilities and the need for support from co-workers can help families understand and cope during times of disaster.
- Even though the fire service culture is full of pranks and jokes, there is also a bond of friendship and brotherhood or sisterhood unlike any other. Within this bond, trusted friends can be counted on to hear about thoughts and experiences following a critical incident or disaster. They are an important sounding board because they have "been there" and they will understand.
- It is also helpful to provide some details of your experiences to your family, so that they can have a better understanding of what you are going through. Communication between family members is important at all times; but can be particularly helpful when a disaster or critical incident occurs.
- Physical exercise can be a powerful stress reducer. This is especially true for fire service personnel who must endure many calls that are high alert on dispatch, but turn out to be a false alarm upon arrival. The "stop and go" nature of emergency services work can create a stress buildup that can be managed with a physical work out.
For more information on lessons learned and helpful coping strategies for fire service personnel, download copies of material we developed for FDNY and 9/11 Pentagon responders by clicking on one of the following links:
Reaching For Support
Our Challenges, Our Responses
Helping America Cope