A constructivist grounded theory of firefighter perceptions of stress, coping and the relationship to health
Hunter, Sara B.G.
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This qualitative research was a constructivist grounded theory designed to develop an understanding of how firefighters perceive and cope with stressful situations and the impact this has on their perceptions of health. This study was framed in a social ecological perspective with the community of firefighting providing the environment within which to explore stress and coping. Of particular concern here are the stressors associated with firefighting. Prior research with firefighters has often been epidemiological and statistical in nature, focusing on measures of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression (Baker & Williams, 2001 ; Brown et al., 2002; Murphy et al.,1999; Regehr et al., 2002; Regehr et al., 2003). Qualitative research examining the perception of stress among firefighters that includes personal stories allows firefighters the opportunity to describe what it is like to be met with physically and mentally challenging situations on a daily basis. Twelve in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with a brief questionnaire were conducted with firefighters from a Southern Ontario Fire Department. Four main themes emerged describing the persona of the firefighter, the stressors of firefighters, coping strategies of firefighters, and firefighters' perceptions of health. Stressors include requirements of the job, traumatic calls, tensions with co-workers, the struggle between the family at home and the family at work, political stressors with the City, and the inner struggle. Avoidance coping, approach coping, and gaining perspective emerged as the three coping styles of firefighters. Health was defined as including physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects. A model of the findings is provided that depicts the cyclical nature of the stress-coping-health relationship among firefighters.