Preventing Emotional Overload

     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...


divisions of stress are warning signs. They are saying DANGER! These signs and others
like suicidal attempts, substance abuse and violence are indicators that stress may be the
underlying cause. These signs and symptoms of stress can be acute in nature occurring
instantly or shortly following an incident. An example of this type of stress I witnessed
several years ago in my career. Two paramedics responded to a motor vehicle crash,
which involved a young child. The child was critically injured from being ejected from
the back of a pick up truck. The injuries proved to be fatal to the child. The two
paramedics that responded were well respected and were seasoned veterans of the
business. They both had children at home who were near the age of the deceased. The
two paramedics were victims of stress. The magnitude of the stress ended both of their
careers as they resigned from their positions within a week following the incident. At the
emergency room their ability to function was severely impeded by stress, as they were
not capable of making the decision to go back into service. This incident can also be one
that would describe a cumulative stress incident. Where as, they had prior responses on
children who were severely injured or killed. However, this one could have pushed them
to their limits. Delayed stress is seen when the signs and symptoms present themselves a
period of time following an incident. Many times the incident and the stress is repressed
and over a period of times finds its way back to the conscious level. These are examples
of what is defined as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, often in emergency services we
refer to this as Critical Incident Stress. Critical Incident Stress is defined as events that
are powerful enough to overwhelm your usual ability to function in a normal capacity. 
This is exactly what happened to the two paramedics.
 
     What causes this phenomenon of stress? We relate stress to some type of stressor,
whether it is routine or variable. Routine stressors are those that we deal with on a
frequent basis or everyday life if you will. Items like money, bills, the kids, long hours,
interrupted days off, multiple jobs and even sex are all great examples that are routine
stressors. These stressors add enough stress to our routine daily life styles without the
influx of any additional loads of variable stressors. Variable stressors come in a vast
array of shapes and sizes. The type of response or the pace of a system will have dramatic
effects on the emergency responder. When we add in the death exposure and the vast
responsibilities that accompany different positions in the emergency services we increase
stress levels to magnitudes that are not comprehendible by lay persons. On the extreme
side, family members being victims becomes superadditional to stress levels. 
 
     The stress symptoms effect us as individuals, organizations and as family units. It is
imperative that we be able to identify the signs and symptoms of stress. The treatment of
 stress and stress related symptoms begins long before stress actually occurs. We need to
take a pro-active approach in preventing the occurrence from taking place or limiting it to
a controllable task. That is we need to do a good job of educating our personnel about
stress and the inherent effects that can occur from it. We need to take the education to a
level that is not addressed often in the emergency services. We need to educate not only
the family that we work with but the significant others. As emergency responders we
rely upon two support groups: our co-workers and our significant others for support
during stressful times. Most of the emergency services family is aware of and excepts the
stress and stress levels that must be endured. The group that is least aware of
stress and the signs and symptoms that accompany stress is the significant others. We
must use a prevention approach and pre-educate this group to be cognizant of the signs
and symptoms and also the survival techniques that are required to overcome a stressful