History of CISM in Wildland Fire

The history of the wildland culture is replete with examples of good employees who have never been able to fully recover after being involved in a critical incident. The acceptance of alcohol, divorce related to job stress and job disenfranchisements are all widespread within our culture. Previous generations of fire fighters learned their difficult world, but that’s what made it matter. They’d be told, most likely, that it hurts sometimes, but one had to "suck it upt" to survive in the culture. That’s how most would learn to cope with stress. The nature of wildland firefighters is not to admit weakness or express feelings.

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The Wildland Fire Culture

“Being a wildland firefighter is the greatest job in the world”

air tanker

Wildland firefighting has long been regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations. Firefighting is also a profession that can provide phenomenal rewards. It attracts men and women of character, courage, and commitment. With few exceptions, mainly police and military, there are few careers in this world that can compare to the wildland fire service. When you enter the world of wildland firefighting you become a member of a culture that very few outside of firefighting can understand. This drive is so much a part of the fire service culture that firefighters willingly risk their lives to protect and save our natural resources, communities and lives. As firefighters, the drive is deeply engrained.

The "Seconds" of Wildland Firefighting

In addition to the primary dangers of firefighting, there is less observable, secondary danger for firefighters. The long hours, breadth of needs and demands, ambiguous roles, and exposure to serious injury, loss of life and human suffering can adversely affect even the most experienced professional. The demands of the profession can be extreme, and the emotional costs to firefighters and their families can be immense. This danger is seldom acknowledged and even less frequently addressed. kurt larue

Secondary Danger

The fear of seeking services from mental health professionals "who don't understand" leaves the door open for tragedy. What is worse; the fear of losing your life or the fear of showing others, especially other firefighters, a perceived weakness? This question seems easy to answer for those outside of firefighting, yet firefighters know the real answer. Weakness is a complex concept. The fear of showing weakness relates to the fear of being seen as defective, unable to take it, and not measuring up. Ultimately, it involves the fear of being rejected. It is associated with the need to appear strong, capable, and indestructible.

firefighters by camp fire

Secondary Injury

Psychological injury that results from how an individual was treated following a critical incident (intimidating investigations and interviews, threat of disciplinary action or removal, no or poorly executed crisis intervention). In recent years, some wildland fire agencies have recognized the need to develop strategies to attend to the psychological needs of those involved in an incident while maintaining the integrity of the investigative process. It is important for agencies to recognize the potential to cause harm through poorly executed crisis intervention tactics including CISM, and have established policy requiring proper certification, experience and integrity of CISM personnel.

fire crew

Secondary Trauma

Trauma affects those who experience it indirectly. It is essential to help first responders understand how absorbing other people’s trauma can affect them. Experiencing the impact of trauma doesn’t signal weakness. It’s just that over time, first responders’ natural empathy and the reality of their professions collide, and emotions and behaviors can become a challenge to manage. Secondary trauma, vicarous trauma, and burnout are all terms used interchangably hower, there are differences. Read More

Acceptance Across Generations

Historic approaches were not all bad....One of the key success factors in the Great Basin’s Critical Incident Stress Management Program was recognizing that attitudes and approaches that were once strong features in the wildland firefighting culture can still be of help in dealing with the stress of the profession. The fact that more and more requests for Critical Incident Peer Support services are being received and responded to indicates that the concept has reached the threshold of “acceptance.”

Behavioral Health in the Wildland Fire Culture

In a culture that frequently brushes aside how we are feeling, behavioral health is a hard subject to tackle. Yet behavioral health issues are just as serious as physical health and safety issues, and can be just as deadly if left unaddressed. Behavioral health can cover a wide spectrum of health issues for firefighters and emergency responders. These can include stress, anxiety, sleep problems, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol addiction, to name a few.

History of Critical Incident Stress Management

The history of critical incident stress management lies in military operations. The first mention of it was during the Civil War. Soldiers suffering so-called Combat Stress were considered to be in league with the enemy and were ridiculed, imprisoned or even shot. Only in later years was Combat Stress recognised as a human reaction to the horrors of war and intervention techniques were developed to overcome the phenomenon. Today we speak of Critical Incident Stress when we describe our reaction to a shocking event. Incidents and accidents in aviation often have enormous impact on every human and every organization involved. Read More

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Additional Information

US Hotshots Association


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National Interagency Hotshot Crews

National IHC

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Our Team Members

John Smith - President

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Mary Jones - Business Manager

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Peter Green - Operations Manager

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Bureau of Indian Affairs
Branch of Wildland Fire Management

3833 South Development Avenue t malesuada Boise, ID 83705

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