PTSD Among Firefighters: Startling Conclusions

Scientific Essay, 2015

10 Pages



Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Among Firefighters

Symptoms of PSTD


Avoidance and Numbing


PTSD Development

PTSD and Physical Health

Segment Comparisons

Firefighter Leaders and PTSD

Economic Impact of Stress


Preventive Measures

How to Manage



Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Among Firefighters

In this article Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined and discussed. Also the factors for the development of chronic PTSD are identified. Furthermore PTSD among firefighters and the impact it has on physical health is discussed. Finally, a comparison of PTSD among police, military and firefighters is provided. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (2012), PTSD is a serious anxiety disorder that can happen following a traumatic experience or witnessing an event. Stress is a part of everyday life; we all have varying levels of stress to deal with. When stress from an occupation becomes a burden it is referred to as occupational stress. The more difficult a job the more likely occupational stress will develop. The literature suggests firefighting is a difficult and dangerous occupation, increasing factors for the development of stress (Beyler, 2001). Stress is believed to be a major contributor the startling statistics of heart disease among firefighters according to the New England Journal of Medicine (2007). This is stress at an extreme level that affects the psyche of the individual. There are various factors in the development and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (Schnurr, Lunney Sengupta, 2004). Risks concerning the development of chronic PTSD vary with the number of pretraumatic, peritraumatic and posttraumatic factors (Schnurr et al., 2004).

According to the National Center for PTSD (2010) most people after a traumatic experience return to normal given time, however; some people continue to experience stress reactions that never go away or even get worse. These people develop PTSD. People with PTSD are prone to and display one or more of three kinds of symptoms. Symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoiding people or places that remind them of the event or constantly being on guard, in defense, irritable or easily startled (Hamblen, 2010). Some sufferers of PTSD become numb or callus, indifferent to the suffering of others (Hamblen, 2010). Post-traumatic stress disorder was once associated specifically with Vietnam War Veterans. However, traumatic events can range from intense experiences such as war to everyday issues concerning financial security.

This phenomenon is accredited to traumatic experiences of various types to include but not limited to victims of abuse, rape, disasters, accidents and torture (Schnurr et al., 2004). During the Vietnam War many non-combatants were exposed to the atrocities of war for the first time. This was a war that literally made its way into the living-rooms of millions of Americans due to war correspondents and extensive news coverage (Laird, 2005). Exposure to these traumatic events affected millions of people. Major factors for the development of PTSD among these veterans were the duration and exposure to hostile fire and the average age of the soldiers. The Vietnam War was one of the longest conflicts in American history exposing troops to hostile fire nearly every day. In comparison to the average age of 26 for WWII soldiers the average age of soldiers in Vietnam was 19 (Laird, 2005). The multitude of Vietnam Veterans returning home after the war provided researchers and therapeutic professionals the exposure and experience they needed to understand PTSD. Today PTSD has been well documented, studied and understood.

Symptoms of PSTD

As previously stated symptoms of PTSD are displayed in three ways and can begin immediately after the traumatic event. However, diagnosis is not possible for at least one month unless significant distress or interference with home or work life is detected (Hamblen, 2010). Diagnosis is done by observing three different types of symptoms: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance and numbing symptoms, and arousal symptoms (Hamblen, 2010).


Reliving a traumatic event is a symptom referred to as re-experiencing (Hamblen, 2010). Memories arising at unexpected moments triggering a range of emotions are called “flashbacks.” Examples of such are a motor vehicle crash victim drives by a car accident or a combat veteran hears a car backfire (Hamblen, 2010). Firefighters and firefighter leaders often relive experiences, responding to structures where deadly fires previously occurred. Reliving deadly experiences are a normal operational function for department leaders. Often departmental protocol requires firefighter leaders to relive dangerous or deadly situation to perfect fire suppression strategies and tactics (Cunningham, 2002). Also, it is a common procedure to critique incidents of high dollar loss or loss of life to assist in developing better methods, standard operating procedures and practices (Cunningham, 2002). Critical incident stress debriefings (CISD) are frequently conducted in an effort to reduce emotional and physical issues for first responders (Harris, Baloglu Stacks, 2002). The literature contends proponents of critical incident stress debriefings help protect firefighters from developing stress related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, however more empirical data and research is required to support this belief (Harris et al., 2002).

Avoidance and Numbing

The second symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with blocking out memories, places, people or things that will cause memories or feelings brought on by the event; this is referred to as avoidance and numbing (Hamblen, 2010). Avoiding places, certain people or failing to attend specific events can become a life altering practice. Numbing is means of shutting down one’s emotions with hopes to overcome the feelings of fear, pain or suffering (Hamblen, 2010). Numbing can make the PTSD victim less compassionate for others. Avoidance and numbing may not be easily detected close observation may be required.


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Bracy Dixon (Author), 2015, PTSD Among Firefighters: Startling Conclusions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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