The psychological impact of disaster on rescue personnel

Ann Emerg Med. 1985 Jul;14(7):664-8. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(85)80884-2.


Seventy-nine rescue, fire, and medical personnel and police officers who treated victims of an apartment building explosion completed a questionnaire describing their emotional and coping responses to the disaster. Eighty percent had at least one symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eight of 21 PTSD symptoms were present in at least 10% of respondents. The most frequently reported symptom, intrusive thoughts about the disaster, occurred in 74% of those working with or searching for victims at the disaster site. On-the-scene rescue workers had significantly more (P less than .02) PTSD symptoms than did inhospital staff. Fifty-two percent of the respondents reported that family members and coworkers were supportive or very supportive in meeting their emotional needs following the disaster; 36% noted that support networks were not helpful. The coping behaviors most frequently used were to remind oneself that things could be worse (57%) and to try to keep a realistic perspective on the situation (53%). Eleven percent reported seeking emotional support from others or looking to others for direction. Emergency workers responding to a contained, small-scale disaster are likely to experience mild stress responses. Planning for the emotional aspects of these events is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Allied Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Disasters*
  • Emergency Medical Technicians / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires