Firefighter Fortitude: The need for fire service psychology

April 23, 2024

Kristen Wheldon, President & Founder, Fire Service Psychology Association, talks developing science-based solutions for behavioral health

Over the last few years, many behavioral health programs have been developed to service firefighters nationwide.

These programs are often focused on clinical intervention (tertiary prevention), which involves providing care to an individual who is sick.

A proactive approach may include bolstering community education to reduce exposures (primary prevention) and developing a risk management program within the department to manage occupational exposures (secondary prevention.)

Lastly, firefighters have the potential to be unnecessarily pathologized when they present with symptoms consistent with a normal recovery trajectory.

They may also be misdiagnosed which can impact the efficacy of treatment efforts.

To reduce this problem, we can also support the fire service through quaternary prevention activities.

The fire service needs a dedicated field of fire service psychology

Our vision at Fire Service Psychology Association (FSPA) is to create the specialty of fire service psychology recognized by both the professional psychology and fire service community.

Both the military and law enforcement community have an established specialty within psychology recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA), which has created a clear path for professionals to gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve these specific groups, build a professional community, and develop best practices for that industry.

These specialties are tailored to the groups’ unique culture and mental health needs.

For example, the professional psychology community assists law enforcement agencies across four domains: clinical intervention, psychological assessment, operational support, and management consultation.

Though there are many similarities between the fire service, military, and law enforcement, there are enough differences to warrant the development of the specialty of fire service psychology.

To achieve our vision, our mission has been to develop the scientific study and application of professional psychology to meet the unique needs of the fire service.

We are a major stakeholder in firefighter behavioral health, given that many of our members are the ones who provide direct assessment, operational support, clinical intervention, and management consultation to fire service agencies.

Our membership spans several states within the United States and internationally (Singapore, Canada, Lithuania, New Zealand, etc.) At present, amongst other things, we provide subject matter expertise to national organizations.

We are proud to be represented in:

  • The “Public Safety Sector Council” of the “National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA)” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)
  • The Technical Committee for “Emergency Responders Occupational Health (ERH-AAA)” within the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Representatives from FSPA assist the committee with developing the “Standard for Emergency Responder Occupational Health and Wellness

We are proud to support the United States Air Force- Firefighter Readiness Program by assisting in the development of firefighter peer support teams and implementing psychological risk management programs to manage occupational exposures.


There are many ways for you to get to know our team and get involved with bridging the gap between professional psychology and the fire service.

We invite you to formally join our group at firepsychology.org.

Here you can engage through consultation opportunities, forums, blogs, and chat opportunities with our membership.


We hope you will attend The Fire Service Psychology Association Seventh Annual Conference at the Nation’s Capital on October 3rd and 4th 2024 which will be hosted by the Washington DC Fire and EMS Department with support from the DC Fire and EMS Foundation.

This event is the world’s original and premier Fire Service Psychology conference which will showcase leading research on the best strategies to optimize firefighter performance, safety, health, and resilience and bring together the world’s leading experts on fire service specific psychological assessment, operations, consultation techniques, and interventions strategies.

We invite firefighters of all ranks, psychologists, mental health clinicians, peer support team members, and community members who are invested in firefighter mental health and safety to join as we train and network with international, national, regional, and local leaders within the ranks and disciplines of fire service, professional psychology, mental health, and related communities.

 Thank you for ongoing commitment to bridging the gap between professional psychology and the fire service.

Your investment in this process in invaluable to the health, safety and resilience of our fire service community.

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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