Technical Rescue Incidents and Mental Health

Technical rescues can present unique challenges to rescuers’ mental health for many reasons. Technical rescues are distinctly challenging and incredibly memorable. They can be “once in a career” incidents. These types of calls are exceptionally stressful for rescuers because the likelihood of injury or fatality to the victim is high. These events are also full of perishable skills that we do not remember if we don’t practice them often and this can lead to higher levels of stress while we are on scene. For these reasons technical rescue incidents can be more mentally taxing than physically. The outcome of the incident will significantly affect how we process and recover from it.

As rescuers we are problem-solvers by nature. We are people who can be depended on to solve a variety of problems under less than ideal circumstances. But what happens when we have a problem we don’t know how to solve? Research consistently shows that first responders have higher rates of depression, addiction, and suicide. This is due to the trauma that we witness and due to the fact that we aren’t taught how to process it. We aren’t given the language to say, “I felt really helpless during that call” or “we did everything we could and it didn’t make a difference.”

Most rescuers have experienced some post-traumatic stress symptoms. These take place within the first few days after a call and can include nightmares, trouble eating and repeated reliving of the call. After a few sleep cycles and good meals, we usually go back to our baseline. But if the symptoms last past the first few days and even past the first month, we can find ourselves struggling with something more significant.

It is important we take care of each other. Say you find yourself having trouble sleeping after a challenging technical rescue incident. Or maybe you notice one of your team members is having a hard time letting go of a call that had a bad outcome. What do you do? Start by asking him or her if they are okay and truly listen to what they say. Maybe a conversation with you, someone who was also there will help ease their mind that you in fact did all you could. Know what resources are available if you or they need more. Know if your department offers access to a therapist and what that process looks like. Know how to access your local peer support, critical incident stress management (CISM) team, or department chaplain.


For more information and training opportunities regarding mental health for first responders, visit On the Job and Off.

Register for our upcoming online open enrollment class, Developing Resiliency: On the Job and Off, being conducted on July 20 at 7:00pm EST!

Ali W. Rothrock
CEO & Lead Instructor
On the Job and Off


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