When someone signs on to move into a career in emergency services, they are undertaking a unique and often difficult feat. Coming face to face with trauma on a daily basis is inevitable. It is part of the job that emergency service workers sign up for. They look violence and death in the eye every day, brush themselves off, and go back for more. So, what makes emergency responders resilient to the horror that they face? And, what sets them apart from others that wouldn’t imagine running towards danger?

It Takes a Special Kind

Nasty accidents, physical assaults, stabbings, shootings, injury from fire, there are so many gruesome images that emergency responders deal with in the real-life trials of their job. Police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, and Paramedics are the only profession that are affected by these types of traumas. Prison officers, social workers, and even inner-city teachers are sometimes forced to witness upsetting events. While they are aware of the possibility going into the job, it doesn’t make the effects any easier.

But, what sets all these people apart from the average Joe is their ability to cope with the stress of their job and what they see. And an understanding that coping is a necessary part of their working lives. While there are always tools available to help them deal with stress caused from work, it is taking advantage of those tools to keep these workers from burning out that needs to remain a priority in their lives. And, many emergency responders will tell you that developing an acceptance of that is their biggest asset when it comes to the job.

What Aids Emergency Responders in Coping?

Most emergency responders report using the same tools to help them cope with tragic or traumatic calls at work:

  • Positive relationships with managers and colleagues
  • A large support network of family and friends outside of work
  • Physical fitness
  • An ability to recognize their importance in what they do to help others
  • A sense of detached compassion that allows them to not be overwhelmed by what they see

While most emergency responders refer to their work as rewarding and satisfying, there are some risks involved with dealing with trauma daily. PTSD has long been reported to be a major problem amongst the profession. Some responders have reporting issues with intimate relationships as well as a need to be overprotective of their own family as a downfall of the job.

Available Resources to Avoid Burnout

Outside of the Healthy and Safety Executive management standards that are the minimum requirements available to employees to address workplace stress, there are a number of resources available to help cope in traumatic situations:

  • Peer Counseling Services– These seem to be one of the most effective resources for coping. Talking to colleagues who understand what you are going through has been reported to help responders with “letting it go.”
  • Employee Assistance Programs– These offer external, short-term counseling opportunities if an employee is seeking help.
  • Chaplaincy Services– With multidenominational options available, individual counseling, pastoral and spiritual support, and other services can help those who wish to seek help with someone who shares their same religious beliefs.
  • Peer Support Officers– These are staff trained to provide practical help to managing reactions to trauma.
  • Grievance Contact Officers– They are trained to deal specifically with issues of grief and acceptance.
  • Managers– In many cases, having a manager who is understanding and supportive is a great help to emergency responders. While forcing employees into counseling can be counterproductive, having a manager who is available to assist employees who seek help is important.

So, while emergency services is a profession that forces responders to deal with traumatic and difficult circumstances daily, those who are in the profession find ways to manage what others might not be able to handle. As the saying goes: “It’s a difficult job, but someone has got to do it!”