Coping with Critical Incidents: A Critical Appraisal of Stress Management And Social Support within the Retained Fire Service in Ireland

PhD Thesis

O’Mahoney, Joseph 2012. Coping with Critical Incidents: A Critical Appraisal of Stress Management And Social Support within the Retained Fire Service in Ireland. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsO’Mahoney, Joseph
TypePhD Thesis

The psychological health and safety of firefighters has become a significant issue for
fire services in Ireland owing both to recent legislative changes and to increasing
awareness of the potentially stressful nature of dealing with emergency situations.
Critical incident stress management (CISM) initiatives have been introduced with a
view to supporting the psychological health of fire crews and with the aim of protecting
individuals from developing a psychiatric illness, namely post-traumatic stress disorder.
While research has consistently questioned the efficacy of such interventions, there has been little attention paid to how firefighters themselves actually construct their own experiences of dealing with emergency situations in the course of their work. This thesis
addresses this imbalance by conducting both a qualitative and quantitative investigation into how firefighters in Ireland talk about the incidents they respond to. The first study details a discourse analysis which was conducted on the transcripts of seven focus groups which was conducted with 89 participating retained firefighters. Key discursive constructions were identified and explored in light of how best to provide psychological
supports to fire crews. In order to further investigate these discursive constructions a quantitative study was then conducted with an alternate group of firefighters (n=40) using Q methodology. This triangulation allowed for subject positions to emerge that had not heretofore been considered when providing psychological supports tofirefighters.
A number of important findings emerged. First, many of the subject positions explored highlight how firefighters primarily draw upon discourses of professionalism and how constructs of the “crew” can strongly mediate their experiences of the “critical 3 incident”. Secondly, the research highlights how many of the notions inherent in the
Mitchell model of CISM were not actually borne out in the fire fighter’s own
constructions, particularly with regard to the focus on the “critical incident’ as being always/already a source of a traumatic response. These insights were then used by the
Researcher to propose a framework of psychological support for fire services in Ireland.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintSep 2012
Publication process dates
Deposited11 Dec 2014
Publisher's version
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