Saint Anselm College Department of Psychology
Fir

Firefighters:

Locus of Control, Perceived Social Support and CISD


By Danielle Rondeau
Saint Anselm College
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Abstract Introduction Methods
Results Discussion References

Abstract

This study explores the personality traits of both career and volunteer firefighters throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and attempts to demonstrate the commonalities found within the personalities of those fire personnel, using several factors such as perceived social support, locus of control and personality. The surveys were administered to fire service personnel from 5 possible fire departments throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts, with 26 participants taking part in these surveys, who ranged in age from 18-65 years old with varying levels of education and certification within the NH fire service system.

These factors were measured with the Nowicki-Strickland Scale (Nowicki, & Strickland, 1973) for locus of control, a 40 item scale that asks yes and no questions pertaining to internal versus external locus of control. In addendum, a 26 item survey that was created by the researcher was used. It detailed basic demographic information as well as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) experiences, and whether or not CISD was effective for the participants or if talking with family members, friends and co-workers is more effective. The researcher found that there was a significant correlation between the perceived efficacy of talking to a fellow firefighter and talking to a counselor, as well as the relationship between finding Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) to be a positive experience and perceiving CISD as effective. There was also significance found between the efficacy of talking to a fellow firefighter and the perceived efficacy of CISD, as well as a positive correlation between CISD being perceived as effective and whether or not the person feels that their department officials are supportive of them. These correlations do not lend credibility to the research hypothesis, but may indicate that this area of study bears further exploration, as the sample size was rather small and in a limited geographical region.


Introduction

Firefighting is a stressful occupation and therefore when studying firefighters, the main areas of interest are occupational stress, perceived social support and its effect on coping with stress, as well as whom firefighters go to when attempting to process stress. In order to study these components of firefighting, locus of control as well as effectiveness of coping mechanisms need to be evaluated. In the current Fire Service system, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing is of interest, because although it had been in use for 10 years or more, little is known about the efficacy of CISD as it pertains to firefighting. Could it be possible that CISD success depends upon how a person views their control over the events that happen to them? The first thing to evaluate is the literature on job stress among firefighters.Firefighting is a stressful occupation and therefore when studying firefighters, the main areas of interest are occupational stress, perceived social support and its effect on coping with stress, as well as whom firefighters go to when attempting to process stress. In order to study these components of firefighting, locus of control as well as effectiveness of coping mechanisms need to be evaluated. In the current Fire Service system, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing is of interest, because although it had been in use for 10 years or more, little is known about the efficacy of CISD as it pertains to firefighting. Could it be possible that CISD success depends upon how a person views their control over the events that happen to them?

Locus of Control as it Pertains to Firefighters
Another area of interest when studying firefighters is evaluation of locus of control, resiliency and ability to cope in stressful situations (locus of control refers to whether or not a person sees life situations as within their control or out of their control and can be internal or external, while resiliency refers to how well an individual can cope with emotions and stress after a stressful situation occurs). One type of coping style presented by people is avoidant coping, which entails deliberate avoidance of the stressful event by attempting not to think about the event, or some similar tactic (Harris, Baloglu, & Stacks, 2002). This factor is dependant upon the amount of social support a person perceives to be available to them. Social support is important to study because firefighters willingly go into extremely stressful situations on a daily basis. They need to be able to cope well with the emotions that they experience on the job in a healthy manner, and their ability to cope with stress seems to be indicative of how they view themselves and the support they believe that they have access to through the other people around them. This is important because locus of control is what determines how people view stressful events in their lives.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Firefighters
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is prevalent among the firefighting community. According to the American Psychological Associationís Diagnostic Manual, (DSM-IV-TR) PTSD occurs when a person has been exposed to a traumatic event that involved harm or death to himself or others, and experienced a response of intense fear, helplessness or terror, such as that caused when mortality becomes salient due to the death of a co-worker, or a an incident involving the death of a child. PTSD among firefighters is something that needs to be evaluated further in order to allow specific departments the opportunity to deal with stressful job issues effectively, in order to permit department personnel to work through symptoms of stress that follow traumatic events. It is indicated that individuals with feelings of insecurity, lack of personal control and feelings of alienation from others are more likely to report symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress as indicated on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Impact of Event Scale ( Regher, Hill & Glancy, 2000). Posttraumatic stress is best predicted by personal event-and-response related aspects of trauma. The firefighter will respond in a manner consistent with characteristics, locus of control and perception of their social support network in accordance to how close they were in proximity to the trauma. The firefightersí proximity is determined by the severity of the trauma, proximity to death, fear generated by the traumatic event and the stress after the trauma, such as loss of employment or loss of a close friend, co-worker or relative (Bryant, & Harvey, 1995).
The literature on this topic also indicates that individual differences in resilience and vulnerability are the main determinants of the duration and intensity of trauma-related symptoms (Regher, Hill & Glancy, 2000).
PTSD and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing
Posttraumatic stress disorder among those in the fire service is usually counteracted after a traumatic event by the implementation of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), which is a group counseling session among peers. Originally, in the 1980ís CISD was either an individual or group meeting facilitated by a trained individual, although now CISD is conducted mainly in a group setting with only those whom have come into direct contact with the critical incident (McNally, Bryant, Ehlers, 2003). The program has an educational component, which is held at the fire station after a critical incident has occurred that may potentially produce posttraumatic symptoms, (i.e. the death of a co-worker, a run involving the death or harm of a young child or situations that involve great personal risk or injury, or a personal error). The intent is to start a discussion on topics that the participants feel comfortable talking about. The program moves into more emotionally intense topics and concludes with an educational component which encompasses emotional and physiological reactions to the traumatic events that may occur, and provides healthy ways to deal with them and move on and bring closure to the group (Harris, Baloglu, & Stacks, 2002). CISD has gained popularity in the past 10 years, especially following the September 11th attacks, although there is not much empirical evidence to support the notion that it significantly alters the cognitive effects of traumatic stress on firefighters and other public service personnel who use it (Harris, Baloglu, & Stack, 2002). Instead, there may be an indication that CISD only works well when a person is experiencing posttraumatic symptoms, which often occur some time after the critical incident has happened. This becomes important, as CISD is often times implemented a short time after the critical incident occurs. The other portion of CISD and its efficacy is the role that social support plays in how well a person will deal with a stressful and traumatic experience such as the ones that firefighters experience.
Social Support- Friends, Family and Other Firefighters
Social Support involves how firefighters are dealing with their stress. For example: Are they merely going home and venting to their spouses, or talking about what is bothering them to other firefighters at the station? If this is the case, then could a stress management class be beneficial to firefighters when their social support networks help them to cope well with the stressors in their lives? The amount of stress both psychological and physiological, that firefighters experience seems to be related to their efficiency at problem solving. Those who are efficient problem solvers that face stressful situations tend to report less symptoms of stress than those who cannot problem solve efficiently. In a study conducted by Baker & Williams, (2001) firefighters were administered self-report surveys that explored the relationships between problem solving styles and emotional stress. The results from this study indicate that those who were more effective while problem solving had reported fewer stress symptoms. Whether or not a person is an effective problem solver seems dependant upon their perception of the social support network that is available to them. In fact, the perception of social networks and network conflict at work has more effect on job satisfaction and morale than they do on comparable off-work (home) conflict/satisfaction ratings (Beaton, Murphy & Pike, 1997). Therefore when conducting a study it is important to evaluate components of personality such as locus of control, and perceived social support and reported efficacy of CISD to reach a more visible conclusion. The literature seems to indicate that personality traits and locus of control directly influence a personís response to stress. Locus of control refers to whether or not a person views the events that happen to them as something that they can control, or something that is outside of their control. Those firefighters who have an external locus of control (events are outside of their control) may cope less effectively with stress than those who have an internal locus of control (Fusilier, Ganster, & Mayes, 1987).
Proposed Investigation
The assumption in the study to be conducted is that there are correlations between internal versus external locus of control and ability to manage stress well. There is also the prediction that while CISD is used more often now than it was before 9/11, members of the fire service will report that their main support comes from spouses, family and other members of the fire service. This reliance on other means than CISD to filter stress may be due to the typical CISD implementation as it stands now, which takes place a short time after the critical incident occurs.


Methods

Participants
 The participants for this study were firefighters from six possible fire departments throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and were recruited on a volunteer basis with department permission obtained through the fire chief. The firefighters  ranged in age from 18-65 years of age, and vary in rank, ethnicity, gender, marital status and educational background. Some of the participants were career (fulltime) firefighters, while others were call people (those who are paid to go on calls, but do not belong to a department that has 24 hour coverage), and volunteers. The participants were  firefighters, firefighters and EMT/Paramedics, or fire officers, but had obtained firefighter training. The firefighters were asked to sign a consent form and were debriefed in writing at the end of the study (refer to appendix C). The proposal for this study was submitted to the Saint Anselm College Institutional Review Board (IRB), and was approved.
Materials
 The participants were administered several surveys to measure locus of control (please refer to appendix A) and perceived efficacy of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing , as well as perceived social support. The locus of control scale was Nowicki & Stricklandís Locus of Control Scale ( Nowicki & Strickland, 1973), a 40 item questionnaire that evaluates internal versus external locus of control by evaluating personal belief systems about certain life experiences (please refer to appendix B).
The Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Survey is a pencil and paper survey answered by either marking yes or no with a check mark beside the appropriate response. The Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale  has demonstrated high construct validity when compared to Rotterís Internal-External Locus of Control Scale, (N=76, r = .61, p< .01; N = 46, r = .38, p < .01)(Nowicki & Strickland, 1973). The second questionnaire was an unpublished survey created by the researcher. This survey was a 26 item questionnaire, which detailed demographic information as well as information on whom the participant spoke to about critical incidents, be it family member, fellow firefighter or healthcare professional. These questions were written with a likert-type scale ranging from 0-4, and data was imputed according to this scale.
Procedure
 The surveys were distributed to the fire service personnel during the month of October, 2003, and the data was collected, and processed, utilizing a cross sectional research design. This method involved administering a survey one time to the sample population and measuring the data as they appeared at the time that the study was
conducted (Graziano & Raulin, 1997). The data was correlationally evaluated to determine relationships between the variables: locus of control, perceived efficacy of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), and perceived social support. The different variables and relationships between them were analyzed for statistical significance.

Results
Each of the relevant items on the two questionnaires were correlated with each other and there were three areas of significance. There was a significant correlation between the perceived efficacy of talking to a counselor and the perceived efficacy of talking to a fellow firefighter, r (-.388)= p<.05. This may be because many of the firefighters had never talked to a counselor, or may have had preconceived notions concerning what people it is permissible to talk about fire calls with. Family and fellow firefighters are two groups of people in a firefighters life where there is guaranteed support systems in place, where talking to a counselor may seem foreign or unnecessary.
 :There was a significant correlation between finding Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) to be a positive experience and the perceived efficacy of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing with r(.641) = p < .01.
The correlation between whether Critical Incident Stress Debriefing worked for the participants and whether or not they felt that their department officials were supportive when critical incidents occur was positively significant, with r(.474) =  p < .05. The participants who belonged to departments where the officers are seen as supportive felt that Critical Incident Stress Debriefing was effective for them.
  There was no significance found between the locus of control scale, and whether the participant had seen a counselor, physician, talked to a fellow officer or talked to a family member, friend or did nothing at all. There was also no significance found between locus of control and the perceived efficacy of seeing a counselor, talking to a physician, talking to a fellow firefighter, talking to a family member or friend, or doing nothing. There was also no correlation between locus of control and efficacy of talking to a family member or friend, efficacy of a counselor, a physician, fellow firefighter or doing nothing. This lack of correlation may be due to small population size, (see Table 1), and insufficient questions on the unpublished questionnaire created by the researcher.
Each of the relevant items on the two questionnaires were correlated with each other and there were three areas of significance. There was a significant correlation between the perceived efficacy of talking to a counselor and the perceived efficacy of talking to a fellow firefighter, r (-.388)= p<.05. This may be because many of the firefighters had never talked to a counselor, or may have had preconceived notions concerning what people it is permissible to talk about fire calls with. Family and fellow firefighters are two groups of people in a firefighters life where there is guaranteed support systems in place, where talking to a counselor may seem foreign or unnecessary.
     There was a significant correlation between finding Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) to be a positive experience and the perceived efficacy of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing with r(.641) = p < .01.
The correlation between whether Critical Incident Stress Debriefing worked for the participants and whether or not they felt that their department officials were supportive when critical incidents occur was positively significant, with r(.474) =  p < .05. The participants who belonged to departments where the officers are seen as supportive felt that Critical Incident Stress Debriefing was effective for them.
  There was no significance found between the locus of control scale, and whether the participant had seen a counselor, physician, talked to a fellow officer or talked to a family member, friend or did nothing at all. There was also no significance found between locus of control and the perceived efficacy of seeing a counselor, talking to a physician, talking to a fellow firefighter, talking to a family member or friend, or doing nothing. There was also no correlation between locus of control and efficacy of talking to a family member or friend, efficacy of a counselor, a physician, fellow firefighter or doing nothing. This lack of correlation may be due to small population size, (see Table 1), and insufficient questions on the unpublished questionnaire created by the researcher.
Discussion
 Critical Incident Stress Debriefing has been explored more recently to attempt to ascertain how well it works, and if perhaps other methods of stress coping could be more beneficial. According to Bryant and Harvey, 1996, the role of trauma on the ability to cope with stressful situations that follow is poorly understood, although some of the literature indicates that the survival of a large trauma (e.g. The Holocaust) can potentially strengthen the coping mechanisms that a person uses to deal more successfully with subsequent stressors that occur.  It is because of the prevalence of Posttraumatic stress type symptoms which according to the American Psychological Associationís Diagnostic Manual, (DSM-IV-TR, 2000) PTSD occurs when a person has been exposed to a traumatic event that involved harm or death to himself or others, and experienced a response of intense fear, helplessness or terror, such as that caused when mortality becomes salient due to the death of a co-worker, or a an incident involving the death of a child, that Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) was developed and adopted by many fire departments in an attempt to inoculate their firefighters against the reactions of PTSD (Harris, Baloglu & Stacks, 2002).
    The results from the present study are not significant in the areas that were hoped, these being locus of control and the possible connection to perceived efficacy of both Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) and perceived efficacy of talking to a family member or friend. Instead, from the small population (N = 26) that was sampled no conclusions may be drawn in this area. There were also only men represented in the sample, and all of the participants were from fire departments in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
     In order to be more fully evaluated, the sample size should be increased and diversified to include women as well as members of the fire service outside of New England. In addendum, the unpublished questionnaire created by the researcher should be revised to include several questions that deal with the proposed hypothesis directly, perhaps asking what the firefighter feels is more beneficial: talking to a friend or family member, or experiencing a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing session with fellow firefighters after a critical incident occurs.
    The locus of control test might need to be re-evaluated as well, and perhaps another scale besides the Nowicki-Strickland (1966) would be a better choice to indicate internal versus internal locus of control in firefighters. With a larger population and a few added questions on the unpublished questionnaire, and the use of a different locus of control scale, the results of a replicated study might be more definite as to a possible connection between locus of control and perceived efficacy of both CISD and talking to family members or friends after a critical incident occurs.
    The areas that were significant are of interest, however. There was a negative correlation between the perceived efficacy of talking with a counselor in correlation to the perceived efficacy of talking to a fellow firefighter about an incident. This may be indicative of negative feelings concerning talking to anyone outside of the fire service about incidents that occur while on the job.
There was also significance between perceived efficacy of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD, and whether or not CISD was viewed positively. This may be indicative of participants perceiving CISD as an effective way to deal with stress brought on by critical incidents, and that even those who have not experienced CISD first hand have heard positive feedback on the program from those that they know who have experienced it.
Significance was found in one more area as well. This correlation was between whether the participant found department officials to be supportive of their firefighters and whether or not Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) works for those who experience it. It makes sense that these two items would be positively correlated, because if department officials are supportive of their members, the members will perceive the CISD program as effective.


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