Experiences of critical incidents among female and male firefighters.

Research paper by Ann A Jacobsson, Susann S Backteman-Erlanson, Christine C Brulin, Åsa Å Hörnsten

Indexed on: 17 Jul '14Published on: 17 Jul '14Published in: International Emergency Nursing


A critical incident is defined as an event stressful enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an individual. Firefighters are frequently exposed to critical incidents that might have consequences for individuals and their performance in organization.The aim of this study was to describe experiences of critical incidents among female and male Swedish firefighters.In all 180 participants (16 women, 164 men) who had been involved in up to 25 critical incidents during the last year responded to a survey describing critical incidents experienced in the past year. A qualitative content analysis identified several areas for improvement in firefighters' working conditions.Female firefighters were terse in describing their experiences, while the men described their experiences of critical events more vividly. The critical incidents described by the firefighters concerned such overwhelming situations as traffic accidents, huge fires, and other fatal incidents such as drownings and suicides. Risk of delay due to lack of equipment training and lack of medical education was mentioned. Lack of resources and organizational problems was mentioned as causing risks of failure. Several firefighters expressed frustration over being assaulted and threatened, or exposed to other kinds of violence. Not knowing how close, physically or mentally, one can get to people during ongoing rescue can lead to unsuccessful operations.Gender patterns should always be taken into account, making it possible for all firefighters to express and reflect on existentially tough experiences. Education needs to focus more on medical and mental health issues. Firefighters were sometimes exposed to the difficult challenge of violence and assault during rescue operations. The complexity of this problem needs to be highlighted, not only in firefighter organizations, but also in society in general.