Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Dr. Lindsey Greco in front of the OSU Campus Fire Station.

Responding to First Responders

Monday, November 27, 2023

Media Contact: Terry Tush | Director of Marketing & Communications | 405-744-2703 |


For most people, work-related stressors may be long hours, increased workload or poor management, but for first responders, often it is situations of life and death.

“The rates of suicide for firefighters, for police officers and other first responders are incredibly high,” said Dr. Lindsey Greco, associate professor of management in the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University.

“It’s a very stressful and hard job to be a first responder and for firefighters, in particular, it’s a dangerous job. However, more firefighters and police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty and rates of depression and PTSD can be as much as five times higher than that of the general public.”

Taking a closer look, one might be surprised to learn that only 20-25% of a modern firefighter’s job consists of putting out fires. Most of their time is spent responding to a wide variety of other situations ranging from car accidents, drownings and other trauma situations to medical issues, such as heart attacks or falls.

With the nature of the job changing, today’s firefighters are exposed to more horrendous situations than ever before, a fact that many may not be aware of when signing up. In addition to repeated exposure to trauma, broken sleep and responding to many false alarms compounds into high levels of stress.

Over the last five to 10 years, organizations have realized the need to focus more on the mental health and well-being of their firefighters, but despite this increased awareness, suicide rates among first responders remain high. Greco and her team — Drs. David Huntsman, senior researcher and owner of Huntsman Consulting LLC, and Xiangyu (Dale) Li, assistant professor of fire and emergency management in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at OSU — set out to learn why.

“Existing research points to the severe stressors that first responders experience and the unhealthy/negative coping strategies they commonly use as primary contributing factors,” Greco said. “In addition, first-response organizations do not always play a positive role in development of effective coping strategies.

“The culture within these organizations can compound the stress experienced by first responders because of cultural stigmas related to expressing emotions, such as being afraid to appear weak. In short, the skills that make first responders good at their jobs, such as strength, decisiveness and emotional control, can also keep them from coping with stress and seeking help.”

In early 2020, Greco and her team initiated the research program “Coping with Stressors: Understanding Negative Emotions, Harmful Strategies and the Role of Fire Service Culture.” The team began collecting data by surveying individuals from several fire departments. Word soon spread and more departments became interested in participating.

In 2023, the team was awarded a $511,794 grant by the National Science Foundation to continue and expand the research.

“The funding will be used for additional data collection, graduate assistant support, and other travel and research-related expenses related to gathering the information necessary to answer the questions posed by the research program,” Greco said.

This research’s goal is to provide insight into why first responders have a significantly increased risk of PTSD and suicide and, ultimately, effect change that will aid in lowering these rates.

“We are already seeing the impact of this research — the findings from our survey have led to significant organizational changes in some of the departments,” Greco said.

Organizational changes implemented because of this study’s findings include budget justifications for a mental health coordinator as well as contract enhancements for behavioral health services at a public safety occupational health clinic, changes to operations that affect sleep and emergency alarms for firefighters and even the addition of therapy dogs.

“More precisely diagnosing the problem lays the groundwork for effective organizational interventions that can mitigate stressors, promote healthy coping and ultimately increase the general well-being of first responders,” Greco said.

Story by: Kaylie Wehr I Discover@Spears Magazine
Photo by: Adam Luther

Back To Top
SVG directory not found.