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Burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma among wildfire responders

Rebecca A. Stout, EdD, Samantha Kostamo, BA, Sheryl West, MS


Firefighting is an essential occupation that is hazardous and stressful. While researchers have established that firefighters are likely to experience burnout, compassion fatigue (CF), and vicarious trauma (VT), no studies to date have focused on these variables in a context specific to wildfire response. As wildfires and their intensity continue to be a growing concern in the Western United States, there is a need to understand the extent of burnout, CF, and VT among firefighters, particularly those who respond to wildfires. This study was conducted at a large metropolitan fire department located in Colorado (n = 186). There were three scales used for this study: the Maslach Burnout Inventory—General Survey, the Vicarious Trauma Scale, and the Compassion Fatigue Self-Test. Survey results indicated that the firefighters experienced emotional exhaustion (μ = 16.99), moderate depersonalization (μ = 11.12), low reduced personal accomplishment (μ = 29.29), extremely high CF (μ = 22.60), and moderate VT (μ = 29.15). There were no significant differences between wildfire responders and nonwildfire responders. However, firefighters who were midcareer (11-15 years of service) and those who were between the ages of 35 and 55 were statistically more likely to experience emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than their younger and older peers, thus suggesting that further research is warranted to understand midcareer and midlife stressors among firefighters.


burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, firefighting, emergency services, wildfires

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