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Helping Firefighters Deal with Psychological Stress from Job’s Routine and Extraordinary Events

Helping Firefighters Deal with Psychological Stress from Job’s Routine and Extraordinary Events

Research and lessons learned from 9/11 supports alternative to mandatory debriefings

Are mandatory debriefings following traumatic incidents always in everyone’s best interest? Research and lessons learned from September 11, Charleston, and other events show the answer is no. Immediately sending in counselors has become a standard procedure, but work sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) makes it clear it’s time to move forward from a “one size fits all” approach.

At an international conference on Friday, March 1, the NFFF introduced a new Behavioral Health Model that changes the way the fire service assists firefighters and others on the path to healing. It is based on the concept that no two firefighters will necessarily have the same reaction – not even to the same call.

“Years of accumulating research involving leading experts in the field of recovery from traumatic events, as well as our own work after September 11, helped us develop this new model,” said Chief Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the NFFF. “We realized not all firefighters want or need to sit in a room immediately following a distressing situation and talk about their experience. Instead, they want to know what resources are available to them and their families and how they can access those resources when necessary.”

The Behavioral Health Model reframes existing debriefing practices by recognizing how different people react to and cope with traumatic situations. The model emphasizes that people have varying stress thresholds that need to be considered when offering assistance following a traumatic event.

“This new model reminds us that a person’s experiences, values and beliefs can impact how they react to any call,” explained Siarnicki. “We believe this new model will give the fire service a better path to implementing a more comprehensive approach to helping our nation’s firefighters and their families find assistance when and if they need it.”

A new program, Curbside Manner, was also introduced during the conference. Based on the NFFF’s Stress First Aid for Fire and EMS Personnel, this new course helps firefighters provide more compassionate care during an incident. It’s based on more than two decades of research on how victims recover from traumatic events.

For more information about the new Behavioral Health Model go to