This article explores the experiences of fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel during and immediately after a technological event using a phenomenological approach. Personnel engaged in the rescue operations during and immediately after the Ghislenghien gas explosion reflected upon their experiences in their responses to a specially designed, self-reporting questionnaire that included open-ended questions. Firefighters reported more perceived threat and direct exposure to death than did EMS personnel. Qualitative analysis indicates that the central characteristics of this potentially traumatizing event were the suddenness and massiveness of the impact, and the fact that it involved young victims and/or multiple deaths. With regard to emotions, powerlessness, horror, fear, a sense of apocalypse, and grief were experienced by both firefighters and EMS personnel. Firefighters noted that the death of colleagues, the involvement of friends and family, the massive impact, and exposure to the burned victims were most shocking. Emergency Medical Services personnel and in-hospital staff reported the impact, the confrontation with death, the involvement of friends and family, and the pain, suffering, and screaming of burned victims as the most shocking aspects of this event. Qualitative differences in the lived experiences of firefighters, EMS personnel, and in-hospital staff might be explained by differences in life threat, contact with death, and various degrees of training.
De Soir E, Knarren M, Zech E, Mylle J, Kleber R, Van der Hart O. A phenomenological analysis of disaster-related experiences in fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2012;27(2):1-8.