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Are Firefighters Prepared for Stress?

November 14, 2011

Current training programs may not effectively prepare firefighters for the range of scenarios they are likely to encounter, according to human factors/ergonomics researchers Michael R. Baumann, Carol L. Gohm, and Bryan L. Bonner. In their October 2011 Human Factors article, “Phased Training for High-Reliability Occupations: Live-Fire Exercises for Civilian Firefighters,” the authors assess the value of current scenario-based training programs.

Firefighters must make complex decisions and predictions and must perform extreme tasks at a moment’s notice. Failure to keep a level head in the face of a dangerous situation may result in disastrous consequences. An effective training program that prepares firefighters to handle unanticipated changes may be the key to maintaining low stress levels and preventing stress-related health issues.

The most common form of training exposes firefighters to one or a very small set of live-fire scenarios designed to reduce stress and encourage calm decision-making skills. But repeated exposure to the same scenario may fail to adequately prepare firefighters for changing situations, as lessons learned in that scenario may not transfer to a different scenario.

“Repeated high levels of stress are associated with a host of health problems,” Baumann said. “In firefighters specifically, the stress has been linked to increased risk of alcohol abuse, cardiovascular disease, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Finding a way to reduce the stress levels is a worthy goal.”

For a full copy of this article, visit hfs.sagepub.com

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