I found a tweet a couple of days ago that made me go “It’s about time!” The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation just announced they were no longer supporting the rigid approach espoused by the disciples of the Critical Incident Stress Management model. The announcement reads in part; “Are mandatory debriefings following traumatic incidents always in everyone’s best interest? Research and lessons learned from September 11, Charleston, and other events show the answer is no. Immediately sending in counselors has become a standard procedure, but work sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) makes it clear it’s time to move forward from a “one size fits all” approach.”
Now, before CISM zealots jump down my throat saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let me say that I used to be one of them. Back in the day I was the countywide administrator and leader of our multi-agency CISM Team, and also served on the Washington State CISM Executive Board. We fully embraced the Mitchell Model, went to all of the conferences and conducted tons of debriefings and defusings. Things were rolling hot and heavy for a few years. Then, guess what? Agencies stopped calling us. At about the same time in 2004, I was finishing up my Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, which includes a requirement to complete four original research projects. So, for my last project I decided to explore the efficacy of the Mitchell Model of CISM in helping our local firefighters. With the gracious support and help of leading post-traumatic stress researcher Dr. David Sattler from Western Washington University (ahheemmm, my alma mater thank you very much!) , we surveyed over 300 firefighters to try and learn about their inherent coping mechanisms, resiliency and perceptions about the current debriefing methods. Although the project is nine years old, it is satisfying to think it may still be considered contemporary. Let’s hope the NFFF’s decision will motivate more researchers to impartially evaluate the effectiveness of the most common form of crisis counseling. We owe it to our first responders to heed three little words; Do No Harm.
You can download our research here – BoydEFOpaper