Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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An Exploration of the Experience of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing on Firefighters Within a Region of the New Zealand Fire Service

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posted on 2021-11-03, 02:21 authored by Maher, Julie Mary

This study originates from my practice experience working for the New Zealand Fire Service back in the late 1980's and early 1990's as an Occupational Health Nurse where I piloted a Critical Incident Stress Peer Support programme in the No.4 Region. My interest in the area began after attending a seminar on Critical Incident Stress Debriefing based on Mitchell's model of debriefing (1983). I had begun to recognise in my practice what I believed to be work-related stress but was a little uncertain about where this stress originated. After attending the seminar I began to understand that some of this stress was related to Critical Incident Stress (CIS) from firefighters exposure to critical incidents.  This study explores four firefighters experience of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) within a Region of the New Zealand Fire Service. It explores the application of CISD as one component of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), and the Nurse Researcher's philosophy of Clinical Nurse practice in relation to the application of CISD. The knowledge gained from the analysis of the data has the potential to influence professionals understanding of their experience and affect future practice and that of others working in the field of CISM.  The aim of the study was to gain a greater indepth understanding of firefighters experience specifically in relation to their participation in a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) following their exposure to a critical incident. Much of the literature that supported CISD appeared to offer a rather superficial understanding of the firefighters experience in relation to CISD. I chose to use narratives as the methodology, utilising four individual case studies as a method of social inquiry in order to explore the experience of CISD. The narratives were able to creatively capture the complexity and the dynamic practice of CISD.  An overall pattern of the formalised process was uncovered through the participants' narratives. Eight dominant themes were highlighted from the narratives which included safe environment; ventilating the stress reaction; similar feelings; getting the whole picture; peer support; bonding and resolution. While these themes were common to all the participants, each participant had a particular theme/s which was unique to their experience.  As a Nurse Researcher with dual practice interests in the area of nursing education and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), I am in a position to inform practice and service development. It is my belief that the knowledge gained from this study has the potential to be transferred to others working in the field of CISM. The study results are timely, practical and informative at a time of major change in the New Zealand Fire Service.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health


Martin, Margi