Secondary Traumatic Stress is a real occupational hazard for those professions that are dedicated to public safety.

As the first to arrive on scene at fire, medical, and law enforcement emergencies, first responders face repeated exposure to traumatic events and victims of trauma.  Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is a natural consequence of this cumulative stress on those who rescue, assist, and protect others daily in the line of duty.  First responders are vulnerable to the toxic effects of STS, which can have a lasting impact on physical and mental well-being, damage personal relationships, and hurt work performance.  Workplace structure, awareness, and prevention are key to minimizing the impact of STS and coping in healthy ways.

5 x First Responders are 5 times more likely to experience depression or PTSD 50 % of police investigating child abuse cases experience STS 2 x Estimates indicate that more than twice the number of firefighters die in suicide than in the line of duty
Emergency Vehicle Lights
  1. Firefighters

    Fighting flames in the hopes of carrying victims to safety, they also must grapple with recovering losses.  Images they can’t unsee haunt them when they’re alone.

  2. EMS

    Medical incidents arise from gun violence, fire, suicides, childhood injuries and substance use disorder. EMS saves lives from overdose, and witnesses the pain that has lead people to overdose.

  3. Police

    Facing enormous pressure in both the incident and aftermath, officers experience the stress of making split-second decisions that can have life-altering consequences.

Community helpers that give their all during life’s most distressing moments need help and support, also.  There are a variety of resources to support individual first responders and their departments alike.  These tools can promote awareness, increase resilience, and connect first responders with the care and assistance they need to limit the impact of STS.  By taking care of ourselves, we can better take care of each other.

Charles H. Ramsay
Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department

Police officers are always under a microscope.  You have seconds to decide how you’re going to handle something.  People have months if not years to dissect every single thing you did… and that’s the kind of pressure that police officers are under now, and it’s enormous.  So it’s not just the incident, it’s the aftermath.  That aftermath isn’t how you personally feel, it’s how you’re going to be perceived.

LT. Ken Pagorek
Philadelphia Fire Department, Special Operations

…We were thinking we probably weren’t going to encounter any more live individuals, but that’s why we don’t stop…. Risk versus reward, we’ll continue until we’re sure.

Crystal Yates
Philadelphia Fire Department, Deputy Commissioner & EMS

Medics and EMTs are so busy. On any given day, they can take care of a shooting victim, an abused child and someone who was severely burned in a fire all in the first half of the shift. They do the job of saving lives in high stress environments. We have to always remind them to take care of themselves.

First Responder Solutions Resources

The Solutions Database is a way to find resources available for workplaces and individuals. This page highlights specific resources for First Responders. To view solutions for multiple work sectors in the full database, browse the Solutions Page here.  To return to this filtered page, use your browser's back button.


First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma
Type: Workplace
Category: STS Information Articles, Papers, Video
SAMHSA's Disaster Technical Assistance Center - Supplemental Research Bulletin First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma This issue of the Supplemental Research Bulletin focuses on mental health and…
Pause First Academy
Type: Individual, Workplace
Category: Training, Consultation, Retreats
Pause First Academy is dedicated to helping frontline workers through resilience training, with a focus on holistic wellness, and work-life balance. Founded and staffed by those who have been first responders or have worked with first…
The Call We Carry: Confronting PTSD In The Fire Service | Tacoma Fire Documentary Film
Type: Workplace
Category: STS Information Articles, Papers, Video
Follow the journeys of 4 Tacoma Firefighters, as they share their stories of pain, sacrifice, and resiliency in the midst of an unprecedented call volume increase. The film provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of those who put it…

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Crisis Hotline Worker
What about other first responders?

There are professions other than fire, police, and EMS that also serve a critical role in identifying, assessing, and intervening in times of crisis.  Teachers, healthcare providers, social workers, and crisis counselors are just a few of the community members who may act as a first line of defense in their daily roles.  Remaining on high alert and absorbing the ongoing stress comes at an emotional cost.  Anyone who works as a professional caregiver can be susceptible to STS and the toll it can take.  The resources found on this website can be beneficial to any group or individual who identifies as a first responder, whether through promoting self-care and coping skills, or through supportive workplace programming.