Over the past few years, there has been increased awareness of the negative effects of long-term unmanaged stress on firefighters, due to the rise in health concerns and deaths. However, there is no psychometrically-validated assessment tool that is widely used to measure stress in firefighters. There are a number of chronic and acute occupational stressors that are unique to firefighters. These include: shift work, disruptive sleep cycles, irregular physical exertion, smoke and toxin exposure, and excessive heat and dehydration. Chronic stress can contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well a deterioration of physical health including high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, excess fatigue, weight fluctuation, and a weakened immune system. Additionally, chronic stress has also been shown to lead to job dissatisfaction, sick days, and burnout. It is imperative that firefighters become aware of, and proactive in, monitoring their stress levels as a first step in reducing it. The purpose of the current project is to develop and empirically validate a stress screening measure specifically for firefighters.
This project will employ the Behavioral Analytic Model of test construction, involving a functional analysis of the relationship between a firefighter’s behavior (i.e., stress response) and their environment (i.e., occupational stressors). Approximately 800 firefighters from various regions in the United States will participate by completing a questionnaire composed of stressful situations unique to firefighters. This project has the potential to significantly advance the knowledge of stress and its related difficulties. It will be the first of its kind designed to detect and quantify stress in firefighters in order to screen for, and identify, those who may be at risk for experiencing elevated levels of stress and subsequent mental and physical health problems. This project is a collaboration between Nova Southeastern University College of Psychology and The Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services of the Broward Sheriff’s Office.