A qualitative exploration of traumatic experiences and coping strategies amongst firefighters in Dublin Fire Brigade and their attitudes to support services

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Bevin, Herbert
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BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Exposure to trauma constitutes a large part of emergency service work and emergency workers are not immune to the effects of dealing with trauma. The purpose of this research project was to gain a deeper understanding of how firefighters in Dublin Fire Brigade experience traumatic incidents. It also explored coping strategies, support services and the Dublin firefighter’s attitude towards counselling in the fire service. A sample group of six firefighters were interviewed using semi-structured qualitative interviewing procedures and the data was analysed using thematic analysis. The findings of this researched revealed that firefighters experience certain types of critical incidents as disturbing. In addition it indicated that there is a strong subjective component to reactions to trauma and a critical incident in this regard is not so easily defined. This study also found that the previously unresearched dual role (firefighter / paramedic) of the Dublin firefighter increases exposure and self efficacy due to the high levels of incidents and additional skills. The findings also caution that the high level of exposure on ambulance duty is not recognised by the organisation in terms of providing appropriate interventions if required. The findings also revealed the importance of peer support as a positive coping strategy particularly the senior serving members. In the main firefighters have developed adaptive coping mechanisms that mitigate against symptoms of psychological distress. The participants in this study favoured informal peer support as the first means of support. All participants were aware of the formal support services such as Critical Incident Stress Management. The individuals felt that this service was widely underutilised and that firefighters would benefit from an enhanced service that includes counselling. Awareness of mental health issues have developed but needs to become embedded in the culture of the organisation. Author keywords: Firefighters, Dublin Fire Brigade, traumatic, critical incidents, coping, support service