What is a critical incident?

computersA critical incident is any event that overwhelms a person’s usual ability to cope (Everly/Mitchell 1993).  For First Responders, some of the familiar critical incidents are:

  • Officer involved shooting
  • Death or injury of a co-worker
  • Suicide of a co-worker
  • Prolonged/failed rescue
  • Incidents involving children
  • Mass casualty
  • Large media influence
  • Victim known to responder
  • Exposure to infectious diseases
  • When your own safety is in peril
  • Administrative/Co-worker Betrayal 

A critical incident often produces fear, terror or helplessness (APA 1994).  A First Responder could be involved in one incident to as many as hundreds of incidents throughout their career.  The traumatic stress they experience may be cumulative over a number of years on the job or the number of traumatic incidents they experienced.  Not all First Responders react in the same way to similar incidents.

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