Frequently Asked Question For First Responders

hope for emergency responders organization
These are some answers to questions first responders often ask us. Please contact us with any questions you may have.
HERO helps firefighters, EMTs, police, and their families. Contact us if you have questions about what we do, how to find help, and how we can work together.


Which types of personnel does HERO include in the term “first responders”?

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 (HSPD-8) defines first responders as: “…Those individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment, including…emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations.” HERO uses the term to include police, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, and emergency and paramedical teams (Benedek, Fullerton, & Ursano, 2007). For the purpose of this website, HERO concentrates on three major groups that we combine under the umbrella term of “first responders”:

  • Emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Firefighters
  • Police officers

What are some of the ways in which first responders experience job-related stress?

Public health and public safety workers experience a broad range of health and mental health consequences as a result of work-related exposures to natural or human-caused disasters (Benedek et al., 2007). First responders involved in these occupations are exposed to hazards inherent in the nature of their jobs (Plat, Frings-Dresen, & Sluiter, 2011). Examples include exposure (direct or indirect) to death, grief, injury, pain, or loss as well as direct exposure to threats to personal safety, long hours of work, frequent shifts and longer shift hours, poor sleep, physical hardships, and other negative experiences (Botha, Gwin, & Purpora, 2015; Heavey et al., 2015; Marmar et al., 2006; Patterson et al., 2012; Quevillon, Gray, Erickson, Gonzalez, & Jacobs, 2016). Many disasters cause overwhelming disruption to the social, familial, economic, and physical structure of the affected community (Mitchell, 2011; Miller, 2011). The intra- and interpersonal disturbances that arise from disaster work can be observed among both professional and volunteer first responders (Mitchell, 2011).

What are some of the preliminary physical and emotional signs that a first responder is having a stress response?

  • Bodily sensations and physical effects such as rapid heart rate, headaches, nausea, inability to relax when off duty, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Strong negative feelings
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Problematic or risky behaviors
  • Social conflicts

A longer list of symptoms, as well as self-help tips, are available from NIOSH.

What are some of the health conditions that first responders can possibly develop as the result of emotional stress?

One of the core risk factors for first responders is the pace of their work. First responders are always on the front line facing highly stressful and risky calls. This tempo can lead to an inability to integrate work experiences. For instance, according to a study, 69 percent of EMS professionals have never had enough time to recover between traumatic events (Bentley et al., 2013). As a result, depression, stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms, suicidal ideation, and a host of other functional and relational conditions have been reported.

How can the families of first responders best help their loved ones affected by emotional stress?

There are some good tips located here.

What are some of the signs of suicide risk factors and warning signs?

  • Appearing depressed or sad most of the time
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in most activities
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Feeling helpless/hopeless
  • Feeling excessive guilt or shame
  • Acting impulsively or recklessly
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Obtaining lethal means
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Financial Stress
  • Experiencing the loss of a relationship
  • Performing poorly at work

What are some of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse?

  • Drop in work attendance; frequent lateness
  • Change in appearance
  • Decline in health
  • Change in behavior towards other members; withdrawn
  • Change in mood
  • Overall work performance has declined
  • Difficulty concentrating; inability to recall events
  • Drowsiness
  • Frequent accidents and physical injuries
  • Debts, borrowing money from other members
  • Family discord
  • Arrest or job suspension

How does HERO help first responders?

We offer immediate assistance to first responders in the form of a Warm Line, Peer Support, a Financial Assistance Fund, Resources, and continuation of peer support following treatment. HERO also has a Scholarship Fund open to graduating high school seniors.

Other Services

The HERO Home Page is an overview of who we are and what we do. HERO’s Assistance Fund can supply financial help for first responders who need it. The HERO Scholarship Fund is open to graduating high school seniors. HERO offers Peer Support in the form of a warm line. The Resources page lists other ways first responders can find help. Our Board of Directors is dedicated to helping first responders.