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The Risks and Rewards of Marriage for Fire Fighters: A Literature Review with Implications for EAP



EAPs may be able to better support fire fighters and their families if more is known about the marital and occupational stressors of this at-risk population. We conducted a review of literature to answer several questions. First, what is the actual rate of divorce among people working in fire service? Second, what factors relate to marital stability among fire fighters and is marital relationship predictive of job satisfaction, job safety, and overall job success in fire service? Lastly, are marital enrichment or relationship support programs in place in fire service families, and, if so, are they effective? Over 20 scholarly research works were examined that addressed marriage among fire fighters. Surprisingly, we could find empirical data on only the first question with the other questions largely missing as topics in the literature. Both U.S. census data and a large survey found rates of divorce for male fire fighters in the range of 12-14%, which was similar to national averages at the time. Other data was found on fire fighter family challenges, the spouses of fire fighters, and the marriages of volunteer fire fighters. Advances in counseling and other behavioral health services for fire fighters are also identified. Suggestions for EAP practice and future research are provided.
The Risks and Rewards of Marriage
for Fire Fighters:
A Literature Review with Implications for EAP
Victoria A. Torres1, Samantha J. Synett1, Michelle L. Pennington1,
Marc Kruse2,3,4, Keith Sanford5, and Suzy B. Gulliver1,2
1Baylor Scott & White Warriors Research Institute, 2Texas A&M University Health Science Center,
3Austin Fire Department, 4Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, 5Baylor University
Copyright 2016 Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) with other rights of use retained by the authors.
Contact at: Phone: (703) 416-0060
Website: Address: P.O. Box 3146, Norfolk, VA 23514
ABSTRACT. EAPs may be able to better support
fire fighters and their families if more is known
about the marital and occupational stressors of this
at-risk population. We conducted a review of
literature to answer several questions. First, what
is the actual rate of divorce among people working
in fire service? Second, what factors relate to
marital stability among fire fighters and is marital
relationship predictive of job satisfaction, job safety,
and overall job success in fire service? Lastly, are
marital enrichment or relationship support
programs in place in fire service families, and, if so,
are they effective? Over 20 scholarly research
works were examined that addressed marriage
among fire fighters. Surprisingly, we could find
empirical data on only the first question with the
other questions largely missing as topics in the
literature. Both U.S. census data and a large survey
found rates of divorce for male fire fighters in the
range of 12-14%, which was similar to national
averages at the time. Other data was found on fire
fighter family challenges, the spouses of fire
fighters, and the marriages of volunteer fire
fighters. Advances in counseling and other
behavioral health services for fire fighters are also
identified. Suggestions for EAP practice and future
research are provided.
Fire fighters face a number of work-related
stressors, including long work hours, rotating
shifts, sleep deprivation, and repeated
exposure to experiences that can be traumatic
or even life threatening. These experiences
place fire fighters at a high risk for mental
health issues.1,2,3 The numbers are important:
one study assessing traumatic reactions in fire
fighters reported that 78% of fire fighters
experienced at least one critical incident at
work, and 40% reported experiencing
significant emotional distress at work.4 Work
stressors are associated with a multitude of
harmful behavioral health consequences for
fire fighters such as PTSD, substance use
disorders, and depression.5-8
Some fire department employees have access
to EAP counseling services to help cope with
the chronic occupational and traumatic
stressors typical of fire service. One example
includes the fire fighters for the United States
This kind of work can also sometimes prove
difficult for maintaining the marriages of fire
EASNA RESEARCH NOTES Volume 5, Number 3, August 2016
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
fighters. Among 147 employees of an urban
fire department (with two-thirds being fire
fighters), almost half (48%) reported that
maintaining a relationship with one’s
romantic partner as a highly stressful part of
the job. 10 Of the 33 specific stressors
assessed, maintaining romantic relationships
ranked Number 5 as most stressful. When
their romantic partner (95% were wives)
were given the same survey, 43% of the
spouses also rated maintaining a relationship
with one’s romantic partner as a highly
stressful part of the job for their husband. In
another example, a survey of 396 volunteer
fire fighters in Australia found that
work/family needs were the top reason for
leaving the fire service (cited by 51% of the
On the other hand, when considering the
human stress response more broadly, a
satisfying marriage, spousal support, and
emotional support from other people are
reported to buffer the negative effects of job
stress.12 Marital relationships in general tend
to have positive health impacts on both
spouses.13 Having a supportive marriage and
family that understands their fire service
work has been also reported by fire fighters
as helping with recovery after traumatic work
Fire Service Marriages at Risk for Divorce
According to Non-Scholarly Sources
Many articles have appeared in industry
magazines that offer advice to fire fighters on
how to keep a marriage healthy and if needed,
how to maintain a second marriage and step-
families as well.16,17 Other articles in fire
service trade journals and self-help books
offer marital advice to the spouses of fire
fighters and to the spouses of fire chiefs.18-21
Although well intended, what is concerning
about many of these trade magazine articles
offering marital advice are the assertions
made about divorce rates being much higher
for fire fighters than for the general
population. See the following examples:
In 1975, McCarty reported in Fire Command
magazine the findings from a non-scientific
survey of 100 fire fighters.22 The results
revealed a divorce rate of 5.3% for the fire
fighters compared to the 2.9% divorce rate for
the general U.S. population. This sample also
had 11.8% of fire fighters who were
remarried from a prior divorce.
In 1978, Fjelstad reported in Fire Chief
magazine the findings from a survey of 61
male fire fighters from one county in
California.23 This report was based on data
from her doctoral dissertation study.24 It
found a divorce rate of 9.5% for the fire
fighters, compared to a 3.7% rate for the
general U.S. male population in 1975. The rest
of the men in this fire fighter sample included
72% who were married, 11.5% who were
single, and 7% who were remarried.NOTE 1
In a 2003 article in Fire Chief magazine,
Rawles stated: “Firefighters have one of the
highest divorce rates when compared to other
occupations.25 [no factual source cited].
In a 2012 report from the website Fire
Engineering University, Norwood and Rascati
stated: “Suicide, divorce, substance abuse and
heart attack rates among firefighters are
among the highest in the nation.26 [no factual
source cited].
Swanson (2012), in a blog on the leadership
network website, stated: “The divorce rates
for firefighters is over 60%”.27 Note that this
statistic was linked to a website page with
various highlights of divorce statistics from
the 2000 U.S. Census but which does not
actually list a divorce rate specifically for fire
fighters.28 Rather, it featured the highest rate
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
of divorce being for the industry group of
dancers/choreographers at 44%.
An article by Willing appeared in Fire Chief
magazine in 2014 that claimed: “The divorce
rate among firefighters is higher than that of
the general public.”29 [no factual source cited].
Also in 2014, on a website blog for first
responders, Sweeney referring to fire
fighters and other emergency service
professionals claimed that: “…divorce,
substance abuse, and heart attack rates in
these professions are among the highest in the
nation.”30 [no factual source cited].
The idea that the marriages of fire fighters are
prone to trouble and eventual divorce has also
surfaced in newspaper stories and on
television shows.
In a 2006 article on the hazards of fighting
wildfires, the New York Times stated “It is not
a job that fits well with married life.” The
article goes in to quote a fire fighter with 36
years experience with wildfire forestry
management who said: ”You’re gone for long
times. There is a fairly high divorce rate” (p.
A10).31 [no factual source cited].
The popular TV program The Dr. Phil Show
had an episode in 2008 on how to help
couples to “fireproof their marriage”.32 The
show claimed that: “Police officers and
firefighters have to look death in the face
every day. Their stress levels are so intense
that 75 to 90 percent of their marriages end in
divorce.” [no factual source cited].
At a recent International Association of Fire
Fighters (IAFF) behavioral health meeting, the
association leadership challenged this
consistent media message of high divorce
rates among those working in fire service.
This veracity of this issue prompted our group
to review the literature. It is our opinion that
the assumption of higher divorce among fire
fighters is actually not true and per that
perpetuating this stereotype may even be
potentially harmful to fire fighters and their
spouses as a source of added social stress.
Given that the majority of professional and
volunteer fire fighters are married, the role of
the marital relationship is important to fully
understanding the lives of those in fire
service.3,23 If abnormally high rates of marital
dissolution are truly characteristic of fire
service, then future research efforts should
reflect this need. Conversely, if fire fighters
actually have normative or even lower than
average rates of marital dissolution,
understanding the positive dynamics of fire
fighter couples could inform the tailoring of
EAP counseling services and other therapeutic
or educational interventions for couples.
Our goal in this research brief is to describe
for the EAP community the knowledge base
regarding marital relationships in fire service
and to stimulate more research on the topic.
Therefore, we conducted a review of the
literature to address the following research
RQ1. What is the rate of divorce among those
working in fire service?
RQ2. What factors relate to the marital
stability of fire fighters? And is the stability of
the marital relationship predictive of job
satisfaction, job safety, and overall job success
in fire service?
RQ3. Are marital enrichment or relationship
stability support programs in place for
assisting fire service families, and, if so, how
effective are they at maintaining the
relationship and preventing divorce?
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
To find articles to answer these questions, we
searched over 100 databases including
Academic Search Complete, PsycINFO,
MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES and Google Scholar.
The following search terms were used in
various combinations: fire fighter, first
responder, couple, wife, husband, spouse,
marital, marital satisfaction, marriage, and
divorce. We narrowed the search to only
include articles published in peer-reviewed
journals. Some articles and scholarly
conference papers were gleaned from the
references within articles that we identified
after the formal literature search process.
Our investigation yielded a total of 19
scholarly research articles in peer-reviewed
journals that specifically addressed marital
relationship issues among fire fighters. Also
included were two conference research
reports and a research-based book. We also
found more than 20 other articles that
examined mental health aspects of fire
fighters but did not include marital
relationships as factors of the study. Some of
these other clinically-focused works are
described in the Discussion section.
RQ1. What is the rate of divorce among
those working in fire service?
Only two published research studies reported
empirical information that compared divorce
rates among fire fighters to national norms.
Although focusing on law enforcement, McCoy
and Aamodt conducted the most authoritative
study of this question. It was based on an
analysis of the 2000 national census data for
the United States and determined the divorce
rates for 449 different occupations.33 This
data found that 14.08% of fire fighters were
divorced compared to average divorce rate of
16.35% for the total U.S. employed
population. This finding was not divided by
gender, but the vast majority of fire fighters
were male. This data found that fire fighters
had a divorce rate that was similar to the
average. Like fire fighters, police officers are
also mistakenly assumed in the media and
other non-scientific sources to have troubled
marriages and high divorce rates. Also, the
rate of divorce for police officers was 15.01%
and similar to fire fighters.
In 2015, Haddock and colleagues reported
results from surveys of employees in 31 fire
departments located in the U.S., with this data
being part of two larger grant-funded
research projects.34 Among the 1,407 male
fire fighters, the age-standardized (age 19-54)
prevalence of being currently divorced was
11.8% compared with an average of 9.4% for
the total male U.S. population obtained from
other records. This study also showed that a
higher percentage of male fire fighters were
married compared to males in the same age
group nationally (77% vs. 58%, respectively).
In contrast, among the 49 female fire fighters
in the study, the age standardized (age 19-54)
prevalence of being currently divorced was
32.1% compared with an average of 10.4% in
the total female U.S. population. Also, fewer
female fire fighters were married than the
general population of same-aged females
(43% vs. 55%). Thus, among a large multi-
state sample of fire fighters, the rate of
divorce for men was similar but slightly
higher than the national average for males
across all occupations. But for women, the
divorce rate was three times the national
average for similarly aged women across all
occupations. But keep in mind that these
findings for female fire fighters, although
interesting, are based on a very small sample
and thus requiring further research and
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
RQ1 Summary. Only two articles were
obtained that provided credible data on
marital status and divorce rates of fire
fighters with other comparative data. Both
studies used large datasets, one archival
national data and the other a large survey.
Both studies found that male fire fighters had
a divorce rate in the range of 12%-14% and
that this level of divorce was similar to
national averages at the time (within 2% of
the norm). This conclusion from peer-
reviewed research sharply contrasts with the
message from the non-scientific reports in fire
industry publications and the popular press
which (incorrectly) describe abnormally high
rates of divorce among fire fighters.
RQ2. What factors relate to the marital
stability of fire fighters? And is the
stability of the marital relationship
predictive of job satisfaction, job safety,
and overall job success in fire service?
No studies were found in the peer-review
literature on fire fighters that used a
longitudinal research study design necessary
to test for factors predictive of marital
stability or divorce over a period of time.
Marital stability as a predictor of fire fighter
job factors also has not been examined in the
studies we reviewed.
RQ3. Are marital enrichment or
relationship stability support programs in
place for assisting fire service families,
and, if so, how effective are they at
maintaining the relationship and
preventing divorce?
No studies were found in the peer-review
literature on fire fighters that focused on
martial relationship support programs and no
studies used a longitudinal research design
necessary to test if such marital support
programs were predictive of stability or
divorce later in time.
Other Findings from the Literature
Given the large set of articles we obtained, we
turned next to examining the findings from
papers that used a cross-sectional study
designs to address topics focusing on the
marriages and families of fire fighters. We
grouped these works into the following three
areas: Fire fighter family challenges; spouses
of fire fighters; and the marriages of volunteer
fire fighters.
Fire Fighter Family Challenges
Some articles assessed family challenges and
coping mechanisms to respond to these
problems. Common areas of difficulty for the
families of fire fighters included shift-work
stressors, work-family conflict spillover, and
competing with the fire house social
atmosphere that functions as “second family”
at the worksite.
A 2012 study from British Columbia, Canada,
compared 94 male members of a fire
department with 91 matched males employed
in the same general community.35 Those
working in fire service did not differ on a
standardized measure of marital satisfaction
from the males working in other occupations.
Thus, similar to the findings on divorce rate,
this comparative study found fire fighters had
levels of martial satisfaction on a par with
other occupations.
Regehr and colleagues conducted several
studies of fire fighters to understand the role
of social supports both from fellow fire
fighters and other in the fire department and
also from family and friends.36 Their first
study collected surveys from 164 fire fighters
in Australia. It confirmed that fire fighters
often experience work-related critical
incidents that result in symptoms of traumatic
stress and depression and that the availability
of social support helped to reduce these
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
negative consequences. The second study
was conducted in the Toronto area and again
found stressful job experiences were common
and that social support was a helpful buffering
factor but had the unexpected finding that
that more experienced fire fighters had less
social support (both from personal networks
and from coworkers) than did new recruits.37
A third study involved qualitative interviews
with 10 fire fighters in Toronto and explored
the dynamics of peer support.38 It found that
fire fighters’ over-reliance on coworkers who
shared the same firehouse workspace also
lead to exclusion of their family members and
that the psychological coping styles of
avoidance and emotional numbing by fire
fighters after traumatic incidents made it
more difficult to open up emotionally to their
Another study was conducted with over 500
line fire fighters, truck operators and officers
in the New Orleans area after the natural
disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.7 In
this sample, the 70% who were living with
their families had lower levels of depression
symptoms that the other 30% who were not
living with their families during the rescue
and recovery work. Apparently, the relatively
more accessible marital and family support
for those who could return to their home after
work each day made a difference in buffering
some of the emotional demands on these fire
fighters. Of interest to EAPs, participation in
some form of group counseling (59% of the
sample) post-event was unrelated to later
developing depression symptoms.
A 2007 study of 241 fire fighters in multiple
regions of South Africa also investigated the
intersection between job and family
stressors.39 Fire fighters who were married
had the highest levels of general stress
compared to those who were single and
divorced. A major stressor for married fire
fighters was the frequent shift work schedules
that resulted in long periods of time spent
away from the spouse and family. A related
consequence was a lack of involvement of the
fire fighter in day-to-day parenting of the
children and other family functions. The risk
for danger and bodily harm on the job to the
fire fighters also added to the stress reported
by the spouse/partner.
Another study examined the role of
fatherhood and parenting role performance
among 473 fire fighters who were.40 It used
data from the 2010 Survey of Fire fighters
Work and Family Lives, which included
participants from 12 fire departments located
in the southern United States, to explore key
issues of managing work-family stressors.
Results found that greater work-to-family
conflict was associated with working long
shifts (> 60 hours per week), lack of sleep, and
high job stress and that this kind of conflict
resulted in higher parenting stress and lower
satisfaction with parenting.
A 2014 study collected survey data from 422
full-time fire fighters in two cities in Taiwan.41
The job strain model characteristics of high
job demand and low job control are common
to fire fighting work. This high stress
combination of factors was related to working
long hours and to a lack of autonomy in doing
the work. Not having enough time and
personal resources to effectively manage both
work and family demands contributed to
stress. The lack of leisure time activities also
was a factor in greater stress among fire
fighters. This study was one of the few to
discuss the role of the EAP. It suggested that
the EAP service would only be effective when
the fire station chief really supported the use
of EAP counseling and trauma support
services by the fire fighters.
The kinds of work-family challenges and
coping mechanisms discussed in these articles
suggest areas ripe for future research.
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
Spouses of Fire Fighters
In her review of fire fighter spouse literature
available in 1975, Noran relays that
characteristics that reduce the effects of
stressful life events available to fire fighters
included camaraderie with coworkers and
positive fire service symbols. However, these
work-based factors are unavailable to the
spouses and family members challenged by
secondary occupational distress experienced
by the fire fighter.42
Pfefferbaum and colleagues investigated the
effects of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on
the partners of fire fighters who were
involved in responding to the event.43 Results
fund that 81% of the fire fighters and 52% of
the fire fighter’s wives reported having one or
more bombing-related PTSD symptoms post-
incident. In addition, over one-third of the
wives reported at least one lasting change in
their relationships post-bombing despite little
to no exposure and no physical injuries.
Menendez and colleagues conducted a
qualitative study with wives of fire fighters
who participated in rescue efforts during the
terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 in
the U.S.44 They found that these women
coped by maintaining patterns of
connectedness with other spouses of fire
fighters and by attending vigilantly to their
family’s needs.
A qualitative study by Regehr and colleagues
featured the perspectives of the spouses of
fire fighters.45 Interviews with a dozen wives
of fire fighters in the Toronto area confirmed
how the shiftwork schedules, the strong
connectedness with other fire fighters and
emotional distance made it more challenging
to provide support to their husbands.
In 1988, Zimmerman and colleagues
demonstrated that fire fighters’ wives
changed personal health-related behaviors
(diet and exercise) when husbands
participated in an employee health program.46
Hildebrand’s 1986 paper presents a self-help
program for spouses of workers in stressful
jobs. The program offers ways for spouses to
learn how to offer social support to their
partners that is designed to improve coping
with fire service specific stressors (c.f., ASSIST
for families).47 The report offered no data on
the use or effectiveness of the program.
Taken together, these studies document a
range of difficulties facing the spouses of fire
fighters in the domain of work-family conflicts
and job-related stress conditions common to
fire service work demands. The data also
suggest the potential for indirect benefits to
spouses of fire fighters receiving general
health training. EAPs could offer educational
trainings on coping skills and access to family
support direct service practical resources
(childcare, eldercare, concierge services) to
benefit the spouses of fire fighters.
Volunteer Fire Fighters
Even though most volunteer fire fighters do
not have access to EAP services, we included
articles pertaining to volunteer fire fighters
and families because so little is known about
the marriages of fire fighters. Researchers at
La Trobe University in Australia have
conducted a series of survey-based studies of
volunteer fire fighters and their families.48,49
Cowlishaw and colleagues used data from a
study of 201 couples with one of the marital
partners who was a volunteer rural fire
fighter.50,51 They concluded that work-family
spillover and inter-role conflict have negative
effects on volunteers and on the families. Fire
fighters had a tendency to socially withdraw
from the family after tragic events at work.
While this withdrawal may protect the
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
individual fire fighter, it emotionally taxes
their loved ones. Greater withdrawal
behavior by the fire fighter was associated
with less relationship intimacy between the
partners and higher levels of partner distress.
In another study involving interviews with 20
managers of volunteer fire service programs
in Australia, the results identified several
themes, including: volunteers’ difficulty
prioritizing family needs ahead of the fire
brigade work responsibilities; leaving
household and business responsibilities for
the family members to perform rather than
the fire fighter; a lack of time with family; and
interruptions to family routines and activities
because of responding to fires.52
These findings lay a foundation for future
research and point to areas of possible EAP’s
service to fire fighter families.
Our primary question regarding marital
dissolution in fire service via divorce rates
was satisfactorily answered through two
articles which demonstrated that male fire
fighters (who comprise the vast majority of all
fire fighters) have divorce rates similar to the
national average.
We were also interested in whether or not the
marital relationship had a positive impact on
job satisfaction, job safety, and overall job
success for those working in fire service. But
we found little empirical data directly on
these questions. However, a useful
foundation exists via some of the findings
from the data on fire fighter family challenges,
spousal coping research, and the family life of
volunteer fire fighters.
Finally, we wanted to investigate both the
prevalence and efficacy of programs related to
bolstering marriages among workers in fire
service. Hardly any research has been
conducted in this specific area and so this
query also remains unanswered.
The couples literature on other high-risk
occupations lends some insight that may be
applicable to fire service. For instance,
studies of police couples have investigated the
effects of occupational stress on marriage and
how high-stress days on the job contribute to
physiological distress, dyadic communication
patterns and satisfaction with the marriage.53-
55 Due to the high stress involved in military
occupations, the literature on marriages of
military couples also lends itself to
comparison with fire fighter couples. Wexler
and McGrath studied families separated by
military duty and found a number of
emotional and physical reactions to prolonged
partner separation, including loneliness,
insomnia, anxiety, and headaches.56
Core aspects of fire service work such as shift
work and the firehouse culture make fire
fighters distinct from police officers, soldiers,
and other types of first responders.57,58
Indeed, several recent research-based works
exist that review the clinical literature for best
practices in providing behavioral health
services to meet the unique needs of fighter
fighters.59-64 Other advances have been made
in providing more effective EAP crisis
response services to those working in fire
service. 65,66 However, these works tend to
neglect the role of the marital relationship of
the employee as a factor in mental health and
work-related trauma experiences.
Implications for Future Research
We speculate that the common (but untrue)
perception that fire fighter marriages are at
greater risk of failure could have a negative
effect on the marital experience of fire
fighters. A belief that those engaged in high-
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
risk occupations are doomed to marital failure
places fire fighters and spouses in a position
in which they may feel their relationships are
destined to fail. In addition, the notion that
fire fighters are less capable than others at
maintaining healthy relationships may create
unwarranted stigma against fire service. This
stigma may have the potential to deter well-
qualified individuals from a career in fire
service, or exacerbate relationship problems
for fire fighters whose reputation is at stake,
as in the event of those dealing with legal
issues. Thus, we posit that false stereotypes
concerning high divorce rates among fire
fighters are potentially injurious to fire
fighters and their families. Future research
could test the role of committed relationships
in fire fighter couples and whether beliefs
concerning divorce are detrimental to fire
Another avenue for research lies in the fire
fighter and spouse dyad and the influence that
each partner has on the other’s mental,
emotional, and physical health. According to
trends in the literature, a closer look at the
relationship of both partners simultaneously
may reveal useful differences between
husbands and wives.53 For example, see the
pair of studies by Roberts and colleagues with
police officer couples that collected daily diary
data and matched it to physiological stress
recordings and behavioral-analysis of video-
taped conversations between partners.54,55
These studies showed how stress at work
influenced patterns of positive and negative
communication exchanges between the
dyadic partners and their levels of satisfaction
with the relationship.
As more women become volunteer and paid
fire fighters, attention also is needed for
exploring how this kind of work affects their
marriages and family life. 67 The data from the
49 women in the study by Haddock, Jahnke
and colleagues suggests a different marital
status profile for women in fire service than
for men in fire service.34 Jahnke reflected on
some of these sex differences in her 2015
article in Fire Rescue News.68 Others have
recently explored how the heightened
masculinity and heroic role characteristics of
fire fighting as a profession are impacting the
opportunities for women fire fighters to join
work in fire service and be successful on the
job.69, 70
Other gaps exist in the lack of research studies
that assess change over time for fire fighters
and their families. Although recent articles
by Maslow and colleagues, and also by
Skeffington and colleagues, focused on PTSD
and thus did not fit with the themes of our
investigation, we look forward to seeing
future studies adopt their use of longitudinal
data to study how fire fighter marriages
mature and change over time.70,71
The spouses of fire fighters represent an
underserved population. By studying the at-
home partner in fire fighter marriages in
more detail we can gain a deeper
understanding of how to reduce stress in fire
fighters and in turn, potentially reduce
associated health risks and work performance
The take home messages from our literature
review of relevance to the EAP community
include: 1) contrary to popular stereotypes,
male fire fighters have a rate of divorce
similar to other occupations; 2) certain
occupationally unique aspects of the fire
service lifestyle and working conditions can
result in stress-related mental health
disorders in fire fighters and this can also
negatively impact their spouses; and 3) the
gap in the knowledge base about how fire
fighters can better cope with work and family
demands to sustain their marriages must be
EASNA Research Notes, 2016, Vol. 5, No. 3 Torres, Synett, Pennington, Kruse, Sanford & Gulliver
1 Fjelstad’s 1977 dissertation thesis -- which formed
the basis of her 1978 magazine article -- presented two
different analyses of divorce issues with data of sample
sizes of 61 cases and 90 cases, which cannot both be
accurate as there were only 61 fire fighters total in the
study.24 The analysis with the 90 cases also is odd in
that it included people who were divorced, married,
and remarried but excluded single status. It is likely
that this analysis mistakenly included most of the 44
women spouses also in survey sample and that is why
no “singles” were represented. Thus, this apparent
analytical error renders the study’s main findings for
divorce rate methodologically suspect.
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Full-text available
This chapter investigates narratives about men who manage wildfire in Australia. It builds on the growing body of work that presents firefighting as a gendered and spatially Eriksen, 2014). This work argues that the privileged subject of the wildland firefighter is cast by discourses of (predominantly white) masculinities that position the bodies of men on the frontlines of fire as heroic, capable, physically strong and rational. The everyday narrative and performance of a place-based firefighting masculinity are so ingrained that they result in conscious and subconscious avoidance of appearances or allegations that align bodies with dominant understandings of femininity. Hence, the workplace and subject of the wildland firefighter is seemingly stabilized through the performance of a firefighting masculinity that includes the display of a masculine swagger, crude language and sharing stories of firefighting or heterosexual conquests. The performance of a place-based firefighting masculinity trades on ageism, sexism and homophobia that dispute the worth of the bodies of women and other types of male firefighters (e.g. see Pacholok [2009, 2013] on contesting mascu-linities between structural and wildland firefighters). Such gendered practices are the focus of affirmative action and broader workplace policy concerns around the role of women and ethnic diversity within wildland firefighting and disaster management. The competencies of people who do not conform to the dominant gender norms are hidden behind bravado and cultural expectations that favor white, heterosexual men. We employ a narrative approach to explore " being " and " becoming " a man within the context of wildland firefighting for the New South Wales (NSW) National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The theoretical lens threads the " spatial imperative of subjectivity " (Probyn, 2003, p. 290), with performativity (Butler, 1993) and the notion of hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 2005). This theoretical approach enables us to think of how dominant discursive " regulatory fictions " of a wildland firefighting masculinity are either ruptured or made resilient through a repetitive set of acts and sayings that are always spatially situated (Butler, 2010). []
Full-text available
Aim: To develop and evaluate an evidence-based and theory driven program for the primary prevention of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Design: A pre-intervention / post-intervention / follow up control group design with clustered random allocation of participants to groups was used. The "control" group received "Training as Usual" (TAU). Method: Participants were 45 career recruits within the recruit school at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) in Western Australia. The intervention group received a four-hour resilience training intervention (Mental Agility and Psychological Strength training) as part of their recruit training school curriculum. Data was collected at baseline and at 6- and 12-months post intervention. Results: We found no evidence that the intervention was effective in the primary prevention of mental health issues, nor did we find any significant impact of MAPS training on social support or coping strategies. A significant difference across conditions in trauma knowledge is indicative of some impact of the MAPS program. Conclusion: While the key hypotheses were not supported, this study is the first randomised control trial investigating the primary prevention of PTSD. Practical barriers around the implementation of this program, including constraints within the recruit school, may inform the design and implementation of similar programs in the future. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) ACTRN12615001362583.
Developing resilience skills has the potential to shield firefighters and other emergency responders from the negative effects of stressful incidents and situations. Drawing on cutting-edge research, this SpringerBrief proposes strategies to prevent firefighter behavioral health issues using the proactive approach of resilience training. Further, resilience training aims to develop mental toughness and support overall well-being in all facets of the responder’s life. This book emphasizes lessons and research from Positive Psychology. A new branch in the science of how the mind operates, Positive Psychology focuses on developing emotional wellness and preventing behavioral health problems. It does so in part by teaching habits and skills that promote self-efficacy, social support, and realistic optimistic thinking. The program outlined in this book supplements current approaches addressing emotional and behavioral health problems that afflict the emergency response community. Such problems include PTSD, anxiety, burnout, alcoholism, depression, and suicide. The authors present interventions and measures for resilience training backed by research and demonstrated results within education, the military, and other communities. Drawing on her more than 25 years’ experience in working with fire service representatives at all levels, Ms. Deppa understands the importance of considering the fire service culture. Dr. Saltzberg, a practicing psychologist, has taught resilience skills to a wide range of populations, including students, teachers, counselors, and U.S. Army officers. Together, they present a compelling approach to preventing behavioral health problems before they occur.
Recent years have seen riots in metropolitan suburbs in Sweden which have raised public debates on segregation processes in Sweden and the downsizing of the welfare state. In this process attacks on firefighters are highlighted as indicators that the welfare state of Sweden is in trouble. At the same time the firefighters’ profession could also be seen as exceptional in terms of resistance towards gender equality and diversity work. Based on ethnographic studies of firefighters this article suggests that such paradoxes call attention to the contingency of masculinity construction in this progression. It is proposed that the growing field of studies on firefighters and masculinity may contribute to understanding how the masculine and heroic imaginary of firefighters may reproduce normalizing intersections of heroism, nationalism and masculinity. © 2014 The Nordic Association for Research on Men and Masculinities.
Could the firefighter emergency responder population also benefit from training on resilience skills, as school-age children and military populations have? In order to investigate this and recommend an appropriate intervention strategy, this chapter looks at what the literature says about the key factors that influence firefighter behavioral health. In a review of literature that identifies vulnerabilities and protective factors associated with behavioral health in the fire and emergency services, several factors turn up repeatedly. They provide clues to the interventions that might be most effective in a resilience training approach with this population.
This article examines the gendered dynamics of wildland firefighting through analysis of employment statistics and in-depth interviews with employees of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in New South Wales, Australia. The statistics suggest increased gender equality for women following the affirmative gender politics of the 1990s in a previously male-dominated workplace. However, we argue these statistics mask how some patterns of practice surrounding fire management continue to reproduce a gendered workplace. Turning to the concept of hegemonic masculinity, we explore the ongoing gendered assumptions of this workplace and identify those that prove most resistant to change around bodies, masculinity, leadership, and parenting. This focuses the spotlight on gender equity. The article considers respect of gender difference in relation to wider questions of mentoring, training and leadership.
Background: Firefighters must be ready to respond to a broad range of emergencies every duty day. In the course of many of these emergencies, firefighters witness events which have the potential to induce emotional trauma, such as badly injured people, deceased children, and individuals who are highly distraught. Previous research suggests that repeated exposure to these traumas (RET) may have negative impacts on the emotional and mental health of fire service personnel. Research on the mental health of firefighters has been limited to small surveys reporting the prevalence of specific mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among firefighters. Objective: Despite the likelihood that RET leads to negative outcomes in firefighters, data is lacking on how exposure impacts fire service personnel. The current study examines the experiences of firefighters related to RET. Methods: Using formative research methods, we examined the beliefs and experiences of firefighters and administrators from across the United States regarding the impact of RET on firefighter health. Results: Study findings highlight the cumulative psychological toll of repeated exposure to traumatic events including desensitization, flashbacks, and irritability. Conclusion: Results of the current study suggest that RET is a significant concern for emergency responders that warrants additional research and attention. It is likely that the long term consequences of RET are closely intertwined with other mental health outcomes and general well-being of this important occupational group.
The condition of workers who have had or are experiencing a failed relationship, have become a single parent, or have entered into the new family type, the stepfamily are discussed. The family life is effected by the stress and trauma of public safety work. Divorce is just one event in the long painful process of a martial breakup. The family failure causes the child to lack the crucial support that enables him to survive society's cultural, educational, and work systems without proper stepfamily familiarization assistance. One-third of all children in the United States live in a stepfamily before they reach age 18. The new couple relationship is major threat to the already existing parent-child bond. Appropriate trained help is beneficial to solve the stepfamily's conflicts. The stepfamilies can create emotionally rich and lasting bonds for each other by devoting the necessary time to develop their own traditions and form loving, stable relationships.
The Victoria, Australia 2006/2007 fire season was amongst the worst on record and involved the deployment of thousands of firefighters from multiple government agencies from across the State. Little research has been conducted into the typical readjustment processes of firefighters following return from deployment. There has also been little research into the emotional rewards that firefighters may experience during deployment. Sixty-six firefighting staff from an emergency response agency were interviewed about their experiences of readjustment and the subjective rewards of their tour and interview responses were content analysed using a grounded theory approach. Firefighters cited a feeling of achievement and of having made a meaningful contribution, as well as a sense of community and camaraderie, as rewards of their involvement in the firefight. Challenges to reintegration following deployment were: "coming down off the high" feeling disoriented and detached; being cognitively preoccupied with the fires and needing to "offload". This paper argues that the typical experience of non-clinical emergency service workers: a) involves substantial emotional rewards and b) follows a typical pattern of readjustment that may present challenges to the workers reintegration into their normal life. Suggestions are made as to how managers may better assist firefighting staff to reintegrate to their normal work role following deployment to the fireground.