Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) has commissioned psychology researchers at the University of Kent to conduct a study, called the ‘Psychology of Rescue’, to look at how our actions or inactions impact the psychology of those we rescue. We are interested in why we do what we do when extricating those we rescue from Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs).
In the last five years, KFRS has attended over 5,600 road crashes, in which more than 3,500 people have been injured. It is believed that 16.8 per cent of people involved in a traumatic event will potentially suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Looking at these figures, that equates to 588 people within Kent alone, who may go on to suffer from PTSD or even Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD). Further to that, it is completely unknown how many onlookers and bystanders have also been exposed to trauma from witnessing the RTC and/or extrication. Additionally, little is known about the point at which PTSD may be triggered during a traumatic event, or whether ongoing sustained trauma soon after a rescue (known as the hypersensitive phase, when response to threat is heightened) can increase the likelihood of PTSD.
By interviewing those rescued from RTCs by fire crews within Kent, we hope to be able to identify when and how our rescue processes impact the casualty. To our knowledge this is the first time that casualties themselves have provided an account of their psychological experience at the hands of the Fire and Rescue Service. Using these findings, we aim to implement evidence-based changes in how we action a rescue at an RTC, in the hope that we can improve the psychological experience of our RTC casualties. In turn, reducing the psychological symptoms experienced at the earliest opportunity.
The negative psychological impact that a traumatic event can potentially have on the long-term quality of life post incident for casualties is huge. This can include but is not limited to, break down of relationships, loss of employment, alcohol or drug dependency, and a need for long term psychological support. In fact, the NHS current waiting times suggest that 75 per cent of those requiring talking therapies should have an appointment within six weeks of referral and 95% of those within 18 weeks.
If the fire and rescue service can adapt rescue techniques to minimise the psychological impact on trauma, it is imperative that we look deeper at how we can provide a psychologically safer experience to those we rescue, in the hope we can reduce the need for such treatments and subsequently improve the quality-of-life post incident. Additionally, this could help to reduce burden on NHS psychological therapies, and ensure that those who need more urgent support are seen to within those six to 18 week referral windows.
This is currently a pilot study being conducted in only one area, but it is our hope that moving forward, this research could also look at different fire and rescue services across the UK and explore differences in equipment, policies, training, geographical area, and demographics. Rolling this out nationally also means being able to investigate trends in experiences across the country. It would also allow each respective service to make targeted changes to better suit their communities’ specific needs.
With a better understanding of casualty experiences, we could then begin to look more widely at the impact on bystanders as well. This is something that has already been explored by New South Wales Fire Service in Australia, who have begun to focus more on the psychology of bystanders and identify triggers that cause them stress, preventing psychological trauma after having witnessed a traumatic event.
Aside from understanding the psychological impact of trauma during rescue, another part of the project looks to trial a new internal assessment of all organisation-wide projects and decisions, called the ‘Psychological Impact Assessment’. This asks commissioning departments to consider how their decisions impact the psychology of our customers and to identify whether changes to policy, training, and procurement are positive, neutral or adverse; requiring them to implement mitigation or a rationale (if necessary) to show that due consideration has been given to the psychological impact our decisions have on individuals.
For further information regarding the research project please contact Area Manager David Escudier, Kent Fire and Rescue Service email@example.com.