Personal resilience

Control Measure Knowledge

Stress is caused by a mismatch between the demands placed on an individual and their ability to cope. Incident commanders are exposed to a variety of potential sources of stress, including stressors associated with the two types of stress.

Chronic stress may occur when there are long-term demands and pressures over which an individual believes they have no control. This can include work life or organisational factors, such as shift patterns, workload or culture. It can also include private life factors, such as relationships or bereavement.

Acute stress may occur when there are short-term demands and pressures associated with recent or on-going events. This includes the decision-making, planning and communicating expected of incident commanders. Stressors can also result as a consequence of the working environment, for example, uncertainty, extreme temperatures, exposure to traumatic events or life-threatening situations.

Incident commanders should understand the difference between chronic and acute stress. They should know the causes, symptoms, and effects on performance of fatigue and chronic and acute stress.

Appropriate levels of acute stress benefit performance as it increases alertness, but excessive acute stress will adversely affect cognitive performance, and sustained periods can lead to fatigue. Mental and physical fatigue are associated with feelings of tiredness and weakness, and affect physical and cognitive skills.

The impact of stressors on performance is not inevitable. Instead, it depends on an individual’s capacity to cope with them; their personal resilience. Personal resilience consists of an individual’s evaluation of potential stressors and their access to coping strategies to manage them. Personal resilience may be thought of as the capacity of an individual to cope with stress and fatigue without it affecting their performance.

Incident commanders should understand what affects their personal resilience and capacity to cope with stress and fatigue. Factors that enhance personal resilience include:

  • Experience of incident command
  • Workload management
  • Training which ensures aspects of performance are automated
  • Perception of the predictability and controllability of stressors
  • Confidence
  • Positive outlook
  • Social support
  • Physical fitness

Commanders need to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and fatigue in order to know when they are beginning to affect their performance and that of others. They need to know and understand what actions to take before stress or fatigue begins to reduce performance, in order to maintain safety. This may include:

  • Creating time to think
  • Maintaining an effective span of control
  • Resting, rehydrating and eating
  • Recording thoughts and information for use later
  • Actively monitoring time
  • Consulting with others

Fire and rescue services should ensure post-incident reviews and safety event investigations explicitly consider the impact of stress and fatigue on incident commanders, operational and fire control personnel, and others involved.

Further information may be found in:

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions