Why is this important?

There are two instruments which illustrate most effectively the fact that first responders constitute a vulnerable group with regard to their mental health in view of their professional occupation. Data and personal testimonies can serve complementary to illustrate this. On the one hand, data communicates the gravity of a problem and can serve as a basis for policy solutions. On the other hand, personal testimonies build empathy and emotional awareness about the challenges first responders face. For this reason, a training should include both at its outset. Hereby, we include a set of stories and data which can be used for this purpose.



I remember my first call on an accident site as a psychologist in assistance of fire fighters. There was little we could do to help and we left the site in silence. A week later we were doing training and during the break the TV was on. The newswoman started reading out the names of the accident victims and showing their photos. Two of the fire fighters immediately left the room, one anxiously looked for the remote, the captain said the break is over and ordered everyone to resume training. Nobody wanted to talk about what just happened. Everyone behaved as if the incident hadn’t taken place at all. I learned quickly that in this culture you do not talk about it: you just get up, get back and keep working.

Sara G. Gilma
California Southern University School of Behavioral Sciences[1]

I started work as a 112 emergency hotline dispatcher. One day I got a call about a bus crash on the highway. The bus was full of children and many had died on the spot, some were heavily injured. I had to contact all the families and inform them about the accident. It was one of the worst experiences in my life and I remember it to this day.


One of my worst calls as a paramedic was in 2016. I recognised one of the cars as I approached it. I tried to distance myself from this as I was stationed to assist the passengers of the other car. I did what I could and went back to the station. My mom called me and asked if I was ok. I said “Yes, but don’t tell me what I think you will tell me”. My mom said that my uncle Robin was in the other car. I was lost. I kept asking myself what would have been different if I had assisted him. Could I have stopped it? I had nightmares about it. I couldn’t eat or sleep.

Ashley Neubauer, Paramedic[2]

Trainers can also play Ashley’s video where she talks more extensively about her experience:



The purpose of including data in the training is to illustrate that first responders constitute a vulnerable group with regard to their mental health as a result of their professional occupation.

  • 2015, US: Out of 1027 retired firefighters 46.8% shared they had contemplated suicide; 19.2% that they had planned it and 15.5% that they had attempted it.[3]
  • 2012, Germany: 16.8% of emergency physicians had probable PTSD.[4]
  • 2012, Germany: 3.1% of respondent paramedics had clinical depression.[5]
  • 2017, US: at least 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide, while 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.[6]
  • 2017, US: 50% of sample male firefighters share that they engage in heavy substance abuse (alcohol) once a month.[7]


This data can be substituted with figures relevant to the national or regional context of the training without prejudice to its international transversal aspects.

It is important to underline that it is not always single highly grave events (such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters) which lead to mental health complications. It could be also that constant and cumulative exposure to grief or death leads to the development of such complications.[9]