College of Psychology Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award

1-1-2010

Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PhD)

Department

Center for Psychological Studies

First Advisor

Vincent B Van Hasselt

Second Advisor

Jeffrey L Kibler

Third Advisor

Edward R Simco

Keywords

cardiovascular disease, firefighters, first responders, occupational health, posttraumatic stress, work stress

Abstract

The effects of occupational stress on public servants who seek to protect and maintain security for the general public have begun to receive more attention in recent years. Most of this research has focused on police officers. Much less attention has been directed towards other first responders (i.e., firefighters, paramedics) except in comparisons with police samples or inclusion in mixed first responder groups. Investigative efforts that specifically target firefighters and their unique responses to occupational stress, the vulnerabilities of negative responses to stress, and the variables that enhance and maintain resiliency in these first responders is limited. Moreover, cardiovascular risk has been recognized in firefighters. However research has been focused on examining physical variables related to this risk with little attention to psychological contributions, particularly the role of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on cardiovascular disease (CVD). The goals of the current investigation were to (1) review research that has been conducted on stress in firefighters, (2) examine the effects of job stress, length of service, and critical incidents on developing PTSD and CVD risk (3) evaluate the relationship between PTSD and CVD risk in firefighters (4) increase our understanding of the manifestations of stress in this population, and (5) provide organizations and treatment providers potentially useful information for developing and improving assessment and intervention strategies. Firefighters from the Broward Sheriff's Office special operations teams (N=87) were the participants. Self-report measures and annual physical examination data provided information regarding CVD risk (weight, height, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, physical exercise), job stress, trauma exposure, service length, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Results indicated statistically significant relationships between PTSD symptomatology and current smoking status, triglycerides levels, and the number of CVD risk factors. Neither the number of experienced critical incidents, nor the number of service years was associated with PTSD symptomatology. Organizational job stress variables were associated with PTSD symptoms, but not directly with CVD risk. Collectively these findings suggest the reaction to traumatic experiences may be a better indicator of PTSD symptom development, than the actual number of traumatic events experienced. Moreover, the presence of PTSD symptoms may negatively influence overall CVD risk.

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