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Death in the Spanish fire services: a curriculum development study

Juan Pablo Leiva Santos (Palliative Care, Hospital de Manacor, Mallorca, Spain) (FIT for CARE, Madrid, Spain)
Helena García-Llana (Nefrología, Idi-PAZ, Hospital Universitario La Paz, Madrid, Spain)
Victor Pablo (Bomberos del Consorcio del Poniente Almeriense, Almería, Spain) (FIT for CARE, Madrid, Spain)
Maya Liébana (FIT for CARE, Madrid, Spain)
Allan Kellehear (Faculty of Health Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 2 January 2018

Issue publication date: 7 March 2018




The purpose of this paper is to understand the need and resources firefighters have to deal with death and dying (D&D) that they encounter whilst on duty and to present a curriculum to support D&D issues for firefighters.


A qualitative methodology involving focus groups was conducted in two fire stations in Spain. The sample was 38 male participants with a mean age of 46 y/o (range: 30-59 years) and an average tenure of employment of 18 years (range: 6-35 years). Data were subjected to a thematic analysis. Dual coding of the transcripts in addition to member checking enhanced analysis.


Nine themes emerged: witnessing D&D during rescue operations; memories about D&D and trauma; impact on firefighter’s families; decision-making process under stress; teamwork: protective and self-support; inadequate D&D preparation and training; adequate technical and physical training preparation; relationship between equipment, legal-moral obligation, and victims’ outcomes; communication issues: toward the victim and/or their relatives. These themes were subsequently framed into three basic domains: personal impact of D&D, team impact of D&D, and victim impact. Each domain, in its turn, is covered by three curriculum topics. The curriculum’s pedagogy is primarily based on experimental-reflective activities during 16 study-hours.

Research limitations/implications

The absence of female participants. All fire stations were in cities with no more than 150,000 inhabitants.

Practical implications

Individuals who take this curriculum will: increase their ability for self-care and resilience; improve teamwork, leadership skills, and to decrease burnout; provide more effective care for victims; provide skills to cope with compassion fatigue; reduced the levels of post-traumatic stress disorders.


Understanding firefighters’ needs with relation to D&D, and assessing the resources available to mitigate these issues will provide a comprehensive approach to their education and promote health both personally and professionally. A comparable curriculum or proposal has not been previously identified.



Leiva Santos, J.P., García-Llana, H., Pablo, V., Liébana, M. and Kellehear, A. (2018), "Death in the Spanish fire services: a curriculum development study", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 71-82.



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