Background: Survivors of physical and emotional trauma experience enduring occupational, psychological and quality of life impairments. Examining survivors from a large fire provides a unique opportunity to distinguish the impact of physical and emotional trauma on long-term outcomes. The objective is to detail the multi-dimensional long-term effects of a large fire on its survivor population and assess differences in outcomes between survivors with and without physical injury.
Methods and findings: This is a survey-based cross-sectional study of survivors of The Station fire on February 20, 2003. The relationships between functional outcomes and physical injury were evaluated with multivariate regression models adjusted for pre-injury characteristics and post-injury outcomes. Outcome measures include quality of life (Burn Specific Health Scale-Brief), employment (time off work), post-traumatic stress symptoms (Impact of Event Scale-Revised) and depression symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory). 104 fire survivors completed the survey; 47% experienced a burn injury. There was a 42% to 72% response rate range. Although depression and quality of life were associated with burn injury in univariate analyses (p<0.05), adjusted analyses showed no significant relationship between burn injury and these outcomes (p = 0.91; p = .51). Post-traumatic stress symptoms were not associated with burn injury in the univariate (p = 0.13) or adjusted analyses (p = 0.79). Time off work was the only outcome in which physical injury remained significant in the multivariate analysis (p = 0.03).
Conclusions: Survivors of this large fire experienced significant life disruption, including occupational, psychological and quality of life sequelae. The findings suggest that quality of life, depression and post-traumatic stress outcomes are related to emotional trauma, not physical injury. However, physical injury is correlated with employment outcomes. The long-term impact of this traumatic event underscores the importance of longitudinal and mental health care for trauma survivors, with attention to those with and without physical injuries.