Objective: To gain a better understanding of the stressors faced by wildland firefighting dispatchers and how they cope with it.
Design: Qualitative method of phenomenology.
Setting: Dispatch centers around the western United States.
Subjects: Subjects were recruited via e-mail solicitation. Only currently employed wildland firefighting dispatchers with extensive dispatching experience were selected. Dispatchers included in this study were employed at the local (3), geographic (4), or national level (4). Eleven dispatchers in total were interviewed, six females and five males. Average experience level as a dispatcher was 14.2 years.
Interventions: In-person interviews.
Results: Three broad categories of stressors were revealed: balancing personal and professional lives, contending with job-related issues, and dealing with issues related to control. Four coping strategies also emerged: taking time off, exercising, providing a service to firefighters, and receiving support from others.
Conclusions: In general, a complex and at times even a paradoxical relationship between the dispatchers interviewed and stress was noted. In other words, while subjects felt that the stressors experienced as a dispatcher had the ability to negatively affect their performance, they also believed that stress was beneficial at times. Future research is recommended to further our understanding of workplace stressors for wildland fire dispatchers, and how they cope with them.