On May 13, 2000, a firework depot exploded in a residential area of the city of Enschede, The Netherlands. Many disaster workers responded, including volunteer firefighters, a group that has received little attention in disaster research. This study examined the presence of health problems in volunteer firefighters who were involved in disaster work, three years after the disaster. Furthermore, it was investigated whether demographic characteristics and disaster exposure predicted health problems. The study population consisted of 246 volunteer firefighters who were deployed in disaster work and 71 non-deployed controls. These firefighters completed a questionnaire which inquired about their perceived health and health change, physical symptoms, post-traumatic stress, mental health problems, and health care utilization. Three years after the disaster, no health differences emerged between deployed and non-deployed firefighters. Good health and health improvement over the previous year were reported. Respondents who encountered more distressing experiences during disaster work or carried out more direct disaster-related recovery tasks reported more mental health problems and health care utilization. However, the most reliable predictors of health problems were distressing experiences unrelated to the disaster in personal life or during work. Three years after the disaster, the health of volunteer firefighters involved in the disaster work was not much impaired, possibly because aftercare was available and utilized. Nevertheless, disaster exposure was associated with elevated post-traumatic stress symptoms and mental health care utilization. Health care workers should direct specific attention to the treatment and prevention of post-traumatic stress symptoms in cases of major accidents or disasters.
2005 by the Japan Society for Occupational Health