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Firefighters Soon Will Be Given Stress Relief

February 26, 1988|JOHN KENDALL | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles firefighters and paramedics who experience exceptional emotional turmoil because of the wrenching incidents encountered in their jobs will soon have somewhere to seek relief from the stress they feel.

The city Fire Department will implement its new Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Program on Tuesday. Its aim is to help emergency personnel cope by identifying typical reactions to stress and defusing them through debriefing.

The department's psychologist, Russell Boxley, told the Fire Commission on Thursday that the program, which he helped develop over the last six months, is "probably the largest in the country" with a team of about 60 specially trained department volunteers.

Members of the team will meet with firefighters and paramedics who have been at the scene of a "critical incident," such as a plane crash, death of a department member, the death of a child through violence or neglect, or where the emergency workers themselves have been placed in danger.

Sometimes firefighters and paramedics are emotionally numbed by their traumatic experiences, fire officials said. Or they feel isolated, do not sleep well, mentally relive the shocking events over and over and become anxious and fearful about returning to work.

"Most of these (adverse) reactions disappear within three to four weeks, but a few may continue," the Fire Department said in a booklet explaining the program. "Timely psychological consultations have a great potential to substantially reduce or eliminate long-term psychological and physical symptoms."

Also part of the new program is an educational effort to tell firefighters and paramedics about the symptoms of stress and how to cope with them. Those suffering stress may be informally debriefed at the scene of an incident or formally "defused" at a special meeting later.

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