Congress applauds fire chief over trauma support

RCN members applaud London’s fire commissioner for supporting staff affected by traumatic events

RCN members applaud London’s fire commissioner for supporting staff affected by traumatic events

Firefighters at trhe scene of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Picture: Getty Images

Managers need to be aware of the effect on their staff of working in traumatic settings, the head of London Fire Brigade told RCN congress.

Fire commissioner Dany Cotton received a standing ovation from nurses in a fringe meeting at the annual event in Liverpool for her speech describing her advocacy work promoting mental health among fire officers following the Grenfell Tower tragedy two years ago.

Seventy-two residents died due to a fire in the 24-storey tower block in west London in June 2017.

Psychological support is vital

Ms Cotton said offering workers psychological support at the time of a major incident or traumatic event is vital to allow them to process what they have been through.

‘Our job in the fire brigade is very like yours, dealing with difficult traumas and just getting through it,’ Ms Cotton told a packed hall of delegates.

‘When I was at the scene of the Grenfell fire there were firefighters in tears. I had never seen that emotion on the ground itself, and I knew then that this was going to be a massively significant event for my firefighters, and they would need emotional support.

Mental health and well-being programme

‘It was incomprehensible how an entire block could be burning, and I felt responsible for what they were going through.’

Ms Cotton, who had taken over the role of commissioner earlier that year, has set up a mental health and well-being programme that firefighters can access following incidents such as those involving deaths or serious injuries to children.

London Fire Brigade has 5,500 firefighters and a team of 12 counsellors. Although resources are stretched, she believes offering this kind of help is vital.

‘They don’t have to hide what they’re feeling’

‘The initial contact is so important in the normalising process for trauma,’ Ms Cotton said. ‘It’s important to offer support to people when bad situations happen and not let what has happened build up inside.

‘Letting people know they don’t have to hide what they’re feeling or have been through, making it more normal, offering fire officers the opportunity to talk if they want to after traumatic experiences and what they have experienced, is vital.

‘People are still having counselling and support today after Grenfell. I am still having counselling,’ she said.

An independent inquiry is being held into the Grenfell Tower disaster, with a report expected to be published later this year.

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