Firefighter trauma

A major element of risk management  is business continuity.  This requires considerable planning, disaster recovery resources, and a long-term focus.

In early 2009 parts of Victoria, some not far from the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog, were incinerated and across the State over 170 people died. In a conservative western culture like Australia, the bush-fires were the biggest natural disaster in living memory.

The is a Royal Commission into the Victorian Bushfires that is illustrating many of the disaster planning and community continuity needs in risk management.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “7.30 Report” provided a report on 5 August 2009 which originates from the views of the community and the volunteer firefighters.  One of the issues relevant to safety professionals and risk managers is the psychological impact on volunteer workers.  Many in the report talk of trauma.  Many in the disaster areas have not returned and their are many who remain psychologically harmed.

When a workforce is so closely integrated with a community, rehabilitation is a daunting task and changes a community forever.

Overseas readers may have experienced their own natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, floods and wildfires.  Many of these stories are reported around the world.  In the recovery phase of any disaster, businesses need to rebuild but are often rebuilding with damaged people.  It would be heartening to see the OHS regulators and OHS professions becoming more involved over the long recovery period.

Kevin Jones

5 thoughts on “Firefighter trauma”

  1. Roger KJ, I don\’t think the latest thinking is you don\’t need to have post-traumatic stress counselling available. The issue is racing to have a counsellor force a person to recount what they felt about the incident. Wessely\’s article links to a survey of people after the London terrorist bombing. They found that only 1% of people said they would like help.

    1. Col
      I\’ll have a good look a the article with my morning tea. I wonder if the counselling services of the February 2009 Victorian bushfires have been reviewed for their effectiveness.
      Kevin

  2. I was doing the usual fogged-out watching of a TV news of yet another disaster of some sort or another. Was snapped out of it by a trauma specialist being interviewed and saying something along the lines of: \”We aren\’t intervening with post-trauma counselling. We\’ve found it can sometimes do more harm than good.\” What? Someone doesn\’t need a professional to help them through stress? How can that be?

    Dug around on that one. And lo and behold some experts have concluded that it can be better to let people use their own methods for working through a nasty event. Better to let people seek help rather than shove it down their throat. Intervention can intensify the trauma. It seems we can trust people who say: \”Thanks, but I\’ll deal with it my way.\”

    Here\’s a link to some info on the issue by a Professor Simon Wessely from the Institute of Psychiatry in London: http://www.bps.org.uk/publications/thepsychologist/extras/pages$/2006-news/whats-the-worst-ever-idea-on-the-mind.cfm

    The article\’s bottom line is: ‘Post-traumatic counselling is a bad idea and a bad intervention’, Wessely argued, ‘it assumes normal people are too incompetent to deal with adversity and it takes attention and resources away from those people who really do need help from interventions that work, like CBT [cognitive behavourial therapy]’.

    1. Col
      I remember Dr John Pearn making a presentation on the appropriateness of trauma counselling at a recent Safety in Action Conference in Melbourne.
      The relevance of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)has come up in the OHS & HR Press recently as has peer-to-peer support in emergency services. I believe that there is enough contrary evidence on trauma counselling for companies to call in their EAP providers and get them to make a case for their retention.
      Kevin

  3. Business continuity and disaster recovery has to be one of the most important factors to consider whatever the size of a business is especially given these days where the elements are becoming even more stronger and worst, unpredictable. Such weather disturbances have even left countries considered to be global leaders helpless.

    If you check on the statistics regarding the business in the US regarding unforeseen events, you are going to be shocked to know that 75% of US businesses gets hit by a disaster and nearly 50% of these business will not be lucky enough to continue their business due to factors like, lost of goodwill for the downtime caused by such tragedies.

    Its probably the same in your country although I wish otherwise.

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