First responders in COVID-19: The impact of compassion fatigue




COVID-19, first responder, mental health


Scholarly literature has begun to report the psychosocial impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the general population and those who have fallen ill. Yet, few studies have explored the impact of COVID-19 on first responders and still fewer have focused on the impact of the pandemic on compassion fatigue among this highly exposed group. In this study, we hypothesize that COVID-19 experiences and disruption contribute to compassion fatigue and mental health problems. Seventy-four first responders completed an online survey via Qualtrics. The survey included items that assessed (1) mental health and pre-COVID-19 mental health or trauma exposure, (2) quality of life, (3) COVID-19 experiences and interdependence, (4) social and economic needs, (5) compassion fatigue, and (6) demographic and work characteristics. Multiple regressions using forward selection were conducted using SPSS version 27.0. Our findings support the concern that first responders are at greater risk for negative mental health sequelae, including compassion fatigue, in the context of COVID-19. Working a greater number of hours than usual, prior mental health concerns, identifying as female, concerns about community and personal health, and COVID-19 interdependence and disruptions were associated with higher levels of mental health problems and compassion fatigue. Importantly, decreases in perceived community closeness and quality of life were also associated with compassion fatigue and mental health problems among first responders. These findings highlight the need for services to address pre-existing and new mental health concerns and support compassion fatigue resilience among first responders in the context of COVID-19.

Author Biographies

Tonya C. Hansel, PhD, LMSW

DSW Program Director, School of Social Work, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Leia Y. Saltzman, PhD, LMSW

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Temcula Robinson

Student, School of Social Work, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Charles R. Figley, PhD

Kurzweg Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health and Distinguished Professor, School of Social Work, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana


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How to Cite

Hansel , T. C., L. Y. Saltzman, T. Robinson, and C. R. Figley. “First Responders in COVID-19: The Impact of Compassion Fatigue”. Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 21, no. 3, June 2023, pp. 193-04, doi:10.5055/jem.0673.