Reducing Stress for First Responders

Reducing Stress for First Responders


There is a need to come up with the ways of reducing and managing stress and strains for the first responders in post-incident inquiry due to the nature of their job in responding to the emergencies. Stress is the reaction of ones mind and body to an emotional or physical challenge. It normally occurs when the demands from the outside exceed ones ability to cope up with that situation.

First responders are those people, who respond to emergencies and disasters when they occur; for examples, police, firefighters, corpsmen, and military. In their line of duty, they are normally at risk of being exposed to emotional, psychological, and physical challenges that may eventually lead to stress. First responders are always committed to keeping everyone safe in case of critical incidents that pose a threat to people. Example of critical incidents that emergency workers respond to include the events of terrorism, accidents, events of war, and natural disasters; for instance, the Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami, and the California fires (Christian et al., 2007).

In responding to the emergencies, first responders are exposed to the stressful situations that may eventually lead to stress. For instance, pediatric patients, when they deal with rescuing children, death, violence, public hostility, poor working conditions, abuse and neglect of children and elderly, and death or injury of co-workers (Moreno, 2003). This leads to stress, which is inevitable, as they perform their duties. Stress can be noticed through the various symptoms, such as anxiety, burnout, nightmares, fatigue, depression, psychosomatic complaints, and grief.

First responders face different types of stress, for instance, the day to day stress, which is a result of different aspects of ones life; for example, in the family, social environment, and personal situation. Cumulative or chronic stress or strain is a result of accumulation of stress situations in the job. Finally, critical incident stress that occurs when one is exposed to traumatic incidences that are outside ones everyday experience (Christian et al., 2007).

In the line of duty, first responders undergo stress and strain, which emanate from the various sources. Therefore, it is important to understand them, as they help in coming up with the ways of managing stress. Organizational stress normally happens when responders perform their duties with inadequate equipments, unclear job description, and unclear lines of authority or chain of command; thus, leading to conflicts and inadequate access to the communication system. Poorly formed team is also a source of stress; thus, making team members have personality conflicts and cultural differences. This makes the team members lack a clear vision and a goal of working toward a common purpose. First responders work for long hours and at times stay for a long time in the same place, where the incident has occurred, until the rescue mission is finished. They also need to adjust to the new climates, for example heat, cold, or unfamiliar terrains (Betts, Ames Research Center, 2005). They also face the challenge meeting many people, who are suffering. Moreover, in the situations, when they are not able to meet the needs of these people, the responders may be stressed. This happens when the first responder feels that they need to look strong and be able to help. Thus, if this does not happen due to the challenges of the operations, the first responder may feel as if he or she has failed in helping vulnerable people, leading to his/her denial and stress. Finally, being far away from their families and friends is another source of stress to the first responders. This is due to the lack of communication; thus, leading to stress of the responders and of their families.

First responders can be diagnosed with various disorders, such as the post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, and acute stress disorder. Therefore, there is a need to come up with the ways of managing and reducing stress of the first responders, because people respond to stress in the different ways. It will help to diagnose the individuals, who are stressed in the course of their operations, because they are given the responsibility of saving lives, as well as preserving the community and property. Thus, there is a need to have an excellent, quick, and accurate judgment (Christian et al., 2007).

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Factors Useful in Reducing Stress and Strains to First Time Responders

Training and preparation help them to have some insight of what is expected in the actual line of duty. The training is normally first aid based, and it includes first aid skills such as the oxygen therapy. This helps them to gain skills of what is expected, when they are performing their roles. For example, body handlers should be briefed on the ways to handle bodies of the deceased (Moreno, 2003).

Coming up with efficient teams, where there is a team leader and a well-organized command structure, should be emphasized. The leader should give clear instructions in order to avoid confusion, conflicts, and frustrations; thus, helping in reducing stress. Team members should be given clear roles, expectations, and be encouraged to practice teamwork (Weiss et al., 2003). Most experienced team members should be attached to the less experienced ones. Leaders should also come up with the shift patterns in order to minimize fatigue. Leaders should recognize them with praises and encouragement; therefore, motivating them.

First responders should be given psychological first aid, when they are training the skills such as empathic listening, expected responses, and psycho-education that will help with stress reduction and stress coping skills. The use of Bubby care strategies help in reducing stress, where they focus on the ways their colleagues are coping with it. Other than minding about their wellbeing, this helps them to share information on the sources of stress, symptoms of stress, and coping skills. Preparing first responders, their families, and coworkers after the end of the mission helps them to cope with stress. This can be done by organizing retreats, where they are all encouraged to speak freely about their experiences (Betts, Ames Research Center, 2005).

The psychological debriefing, also referred to as critical incident stress debriefing, helps in reducing stress of the first responders. It involves interaction between the chaplain, peer counselors, mental health professionals, and first time responders. It aims to help the first time responders to deal with stress-related incidents; this is an intervention done to the first responders within twenty four to seventy two hours after a critical incident took place. It helps to ensure effectiveness at work. This was formalized by Mitchell, who was a former Baltimore County firefighter, and it was successfully used during the Washington Air crash (Bickerstaff, 2007). It has seven well-defined stages that include: introduction, a fact phase, a thought phase, reaction phase, and symptom phase, teaching phase, and the reentry phase. Participation is voluntary, and participants are encouraged to talk about their experiences; the information shared stays confidential.

Narrative exposure therapy is employed where both testimonial and cognitive behavior therapy are used. It involves the responders being encouraged to narrate positive and negative experiences during their mission, and this helps the therapist to identify their feelings and emotions. Group therapy is used where groups are encouraged to interact; thus, reducing the element of isolation, as one feels that he or she belongs to a certain group. Individuals are encouraged to air their painful experiences in the group; thus, help one to feel that the experiences underwent are also happening to others. Therefore, one is encouraged to learn the ways others coped with those situations (Weiss et al., 2003).

Lifestyle changes also help to reduce stress for the first responders. This is done through exercises, developing healthy and positive dietary habits, getting time to relax through mediating, deep breathing, and changing shifts. This helps one to have some relaxing moments with family and friends (Bickerstaff, 2007).


The first time offender risks their life in responding to emergencies; thus, their work should be recognized. There is a need to identify the causes of stress in their line of duty in order to come up with a proper way of reducing stress during and after the critical incidents. This will not only be helpful to them, but also to their families, friends, and the community as a whole.

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