The personality profile of the emergency service worker is one that is action oriented
tainted with the concept of control. It is not hard to figure out what drives the average
emergency service worker. It is the adrenaline rush that is produced from responding to a
working structure fire that has been upgraded by the first arriving unit to a second alarm
assignment to a gunshot wound to the chest that requires the medical responder to
provide a vast array of life saving skills. To many these are routine responses and
probably will be handled in a customary manner with little psychological distress
involved. Why? Because, we have programmed ourselves to become emotionally
guarded, protecting us from the psychological stress that is associated with our job. Is
this what really happens or do we just convince ourselves that is what has happened.
When in fact we are adding additional baggage to the loads of stress that we carry and
deal with daily.
We, as emergency responders, are faced with many stressful situations daily that can
alter our lives in many facets. Our jobs usually follow us home whether we know it or
not. In our professional lives we have to make rapid decisions and have to be in control
of many out of control situations. As the job follows us to the home environment so does
the stress. We often times defuse in the home environment and find ourselves extremely
fatigued. These are common signs of stress. When we are at work we find ourselves in
the 0-60 mode quite often, that is from business of a routine nature to emergency
response mode in seconds. This life style that emergency responders are susceptible to is
Stress is defined as bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an
existing equilibrium. Stress is precipitated by a stressor, which is, defined as an inherent
factor upon the human body that produces a response resulting in an emotional, physical
and/or behavioral reaction. There are two types of stress: physical and psychological.
Physical stress is what is placed upon the body when exertion of energy takes place, or
injury to the body occurs. (Example: Firefighters working several hours to bring a fire
under control in adverse heat conditions.) The second type of stress is psychological
stress which is divided into two categories, bioecological and psychosocial.
Bioecological is a branch of science concerned with the interrelationships of organisms
and their environment. Psychosocial is a branch of science involving both the
psychological and social aspects. (Example: Loss of a co-worker) There are four
divisions of psychological stress can be categorized: acute, cumulative, delayed and
post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Stress as we see comes in many different fashions and has many different symptoms.
The four major divisions of stress symptoms are cognitive, emotional, physical and
behavioral. As stress affects the cognitive aspects of our lives we often find that we have
memory problems and poor attention spans. This is due to the mind trying to work
through the crisis and is unable to dedicate the full capabilities to the tasks at hand. We
are also faced with difficulties making decisions and slowed problem solving skills. As
stress affects you emotionally we see the losses of emotional control, guilt, grief, anxiety
and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Physically emergency responders are in
excellent health. However, in this case, we see that responders often times have physical
symptoms such as; muscle tremors, chest pain, gastro-intestinal distress, difficulty in
breathing in the building, respiratory distress, headaches and hypertension. As the stress
effects behavioral capacities we find that the symptoms are profound. They can include