Community & Society / Experts / Health & Medicine

Who Helps the Helpers? Stress First Aid Targets First Responders

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, an associate professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health, leads the Firefighter Injury Research & Safety Trends (FIRST) Project to develop a comprehensive national system for capturing firefighter injuries.

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, an associate professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health, leads the Firefighter Injury Research & Safety Trends (FIRST) Project to develop a comprehensive national system for capturing firefighter injuries.

In the aftermath of a building collapse last week in Philadelphia that killed six people in a Salvation Army thrift store and injured more than a dozen others, have we considered the impact on first responders who worked at the scene in an extensive effort at rescue and recovery? That’s the question raised by Dr. Jennifer Taylor, an associate professor in Drexel’s School of Public Health who works with firefighters in a research project aiming to reduce injuries in the fire service. Here’s what Taylor had to say:

Often, first responders are not thought of in terms of the psychological first aid and assistance they need after an event such as this building collapse. The Philadelphia Fire Department has been working with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and experts from the Veterans Administration Post Traumatic Stress Disorder working group to institute an intervention called Stress First Aid.  This program trains administration, peers and community members to aid first responders in situations like Wednesday’s collapse.

We often think about the obvious psychological impact a death of another firefighter will have on those who remain – such as those we have seen in Philadelphia the last two years. But we must remember that firefighters are driven to protect and save the public, and so witnessing a civilian death in their work can have tremendous emotional costs.

Some of the stress from Wednesday’s event can have immediate impacts in terms of a first responder’s mental health and also latent or longer-term impacts. The point of the Stress First Aid program is to provide timely assistance to firefighters and to create a culture that looks to help its members process the trauma that comes with their work.  Stress First Aid is meant to provide an immediate intervention and then connect the member to services that will provide long-term assistance.

People in the community can help support the city’s firefighters by asking them if they’re okay.  It never hurts to bring healthy foods to your local fire department, as such acts help nourish them  – both body and soul.

News media: To arrange an interview with Taylor, contact Rachel Ewing (, 215.895.2614).

Other Drexel experts are available to comment on other aspects of the building collapse and its aftermath. See the full expert advisory here.

6 thoughts on “Who Helps the Helpers? Stress First Aid Targets First Responders

  1. bring food?ask the first responder if they need help? NFF First Aid? Not to make a small thing out of this article but get connected to the reality here. Check out firefighterveteran web site by google NAFFVN. This article is another example of the trash that does not tell the truth and misleads the public about the trauma and ptsd as well as the suicide rates in the fire service. Shannon Pennington EX IAFF career firefighter with ptsd and Executive Director of North American Firefighter Veteran Network\

    • Hi Shannon,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I am not familiar with the NAFFVN. I know from working with Dr. Taylor that her research project, FIRST, aims to create a comprehensive and accurate data source for tracking firefighters’ injuries, which does not currently exist. A comprehensive understanding of when and why injuries occur can help prevent them most effectively in the future. If such comprehensive data doesn’t exist for injuries that are easy to see and not stigmatized in our culture — such as broken limbs — then it seems pretty likely to me, even as a non-expert, that PTSD isn’t tracked comprehensively, either.

      Dr. Taylor only brought up that it is important to consider these difficulties that can be occupational hazards in the fire service without making specific claims about the rates of trauma, PTSD or suicide. I don’t think that raising the issue is misleading or “trash” and hope that the continued dialogue on this subject can be less negative, and more focused on solutions. Stress First Aid is one solution, to help people get into treatment when they need it. There is room for other solutions.

  2. Rachel: notwithstanding your reply “I have earned my rite to say my truth” 26 years on the front lines as a first responder firefighter with over 12 thousand active duty runs under my hydrant belt. Along with an 11 year stint in heavy rescue then on to nozzel work and as a front line medic I have, along with other firefigthter veterans, a unique point of view on the ptsd stress subject. Yours is purley academic / scientific and basically boils down to the litmus test of yet another study by yet another aspiring clinician. That said the hard truths are found in the Baltimore Symposium on Depression and Suicide held two years ago as an Emergency Symposium on ptsd and the suicide rates. You might want to have a look at our web site and find the info on the front page. I was one of 40 invited to attend. Of the 40 there were 7 phds in the room and reps from the I.A.F.F. and the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation and the National Volunteer Fire Council. Re inventing a wheel in the above article just shows the academic bias in reporting the truth about there not being any stats out there. (Do I detect someone seeking some grant money in the reporting?) Get connected to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundations Section 13 Everyone Goes Home Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. Better yet get ahold of Jeff Dill over at Behavioural Health Alliance on the web. He is tracking acurately the Suicide Rates. Richard Gist from Kansas City Mo. Fire Department heads up the National Fallen Firefighter Foundations efforts to educate and reduce the stigma and negative outcomes of suicide and stress. He works alongside Vicki Taylor Lisc. Clinical Socaial Worker of the NFFF. But then again you already knew that rite? Thought so. We have a saying on the ff front lines….if you can’t take the heat in the kitchen get out. Wearing pumps instead of steel toes and rubber boots shows me that yours and that of your academic friend is a point of view neither our Firefighter Veterans or the Fire Service in general needs unless your prepared to hitch up and walk a mile in our Rangers… thoughts my way as a free American. If that offends your cultured self…..tough…. shannon pennington ptsd firefighterveteran Executive Director N.A.F.F.V.N. (email me at I can give you some good sound info on the ptsd subject and stress in general amongst first responders)

  3. p.s. stress first aid comes from the Australian model that was field tested over a 10 year period. It was showcased at the 5th World Congress on the Stigma of Mental Health in the Work Place held in Ottawa Canada last year. I was invited by the hosting Government of Canada to attend along with my advocate and was awareded a bursary. In that symposium along with 29 others I was coded as a P.W.L.E. or Person With Lived Experience and therefore able to talk about ptsd in first responders to clinicians, psych types and yes academics. The attendees were from all over the world over 635 in all. Getting connected to the Stigma Conferences will help you in understanding where I am comming from in regards to ptsd. NAFFVN set the record straight with Alberta Canada State/Province by working with the government and helping to shape Alberta bill 1 which covers over 27 thousand first responders in fire ems and law enforcement with “Presumptive PTSD” workers comp coverage. No more arguments about it…again that bill is on the NAFFVN web site left side front page half way down under the title:
    Alberta Bill 1 Breaking News. Making a differencde means walking the walk and not just talking the talk…again my point of view my way….shannon pennington naffvn

  4. thanks for the invite to post…I will….Peggy Sweeney over in Texas runs an excellent first responder program titled Greiving Behind the Badge and is listed on the upper right side front page of naffvn web site…..she is a volunteer firefightger who stands tall with her rubber boots and helmet in getting the info out using timely educational material….Under our program F.I.R.S.T. S.T.E.P. H.O.P.E. we are team teaching our own rubber boot warriors on the front lines of America. We cannot wait for another study or paper to be published….it just is that vital to get the push back on the ptsd/stress that is impacing our front lines…..thanks for letting me vent …. shannon naffvn

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