Norwegian Firefighters’ Experiences of Rescue Work at Severe Traffic Accidents- A Qualitative Study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionInternational Journal of Emergency Mental Health. 2022, 24 (7), 91-101.
Research on firefighters’ health consistently report higher prevalence of mental disorders compared with the general population. Yet, little is known about how firefighters themselves experience their work. The aim of this study was to explore firefighter’s experience of rescue work at severe traffic accidents. Eleven male firefighters were interviewed with qualitative semi structured interviews. Through reflexive thematic analysis of the transcripts five themes were identified: 1) The mobilizing effect of the alarm – fighting against time; 2) The group unity in the fire truck - coordinating focus, preparing the team; 3) Rescue work – I do what I must, but protect myself from the visual impressions; 4) When the situation calms down – the need to talk about it; 5) The long-term effects of rescue work - it affects you. The findings point to how the stress response represents both a resource and vulnerability when having to relate to extreme situations regularly, as part of your job. The participants shared that experience had taught them to use the mobilizing effect of the rescue alarm as a support to handle aversive impressions at an emergency, together with coping strategies such as task orientated focus and group unity. In the time after rescue work, the participants reported a need to process their experience as a group. High frequency and severity of accidents was reported to potentially interfere with processing of their experiences, and participants expressed how burnout was lurking, without any of them knowing when or where their capacity would be exceeded.