What is a Critical Incident?

A “critical incident” can be any emergency response call that causes a responder to experience a strong emotional reaction.  The call doesn’t have to be particularly bad or big.

These types of calls can include incidents like:

  • Serious injury to or death of an emergency service employee related to a call
  • Mass Casualty Incidents
  • Serious injury to or death of a civilian related to trauma
  • Calls involving children
  • Calls involving violence
  • Incidents that attract a lot of media coverage
  • Scenes involving profound danger to responder safety
  • Seriously injured patients that are family members or friends of a responder, or who closely resemble them in age or appearance
  • Calls that are very chaotic, unstable and/or unsafe for victims and responders

What is the CISM team?

The Critical Incident Stress Management Team is made up of trained volunteer peers (emergency responders) and mental health professionals willing to respond upon request to conduct stress management “defusing” sessions after an incident.  The ideal time window for a defusing session is within 8 hours after the end of the incident.  Sessions last no longer than 45 minutes and can be done while the responders are still on duty.

*&@!       STRESS       !@&*

When it comes down to it, "stress” is the normal reaction we all have to an abnormal situation or incident.

For some, the reaction may be minimal or barely existent; for others, the stress reaction can be particularly strong for a variety of reasons.

Years of service, strength of character and mental toughness have nothing to do with how we will react to any given situation – anyone can have a reaction to any call, and not everyone will have the same reaction.

What a CISM session is…
    • A small gathering of only the people who actually participated in the call

A voluntary session

  • A chance to discuss what you saw, heard and experienced during the call
  • A chance to gain insight and support from your peers
  • The opportunity to learn how to recognize unhealthy reactions & take care of yourself in order to lower your stress level

What a CISM session is not…

  • Mental health therapy or psychoanalysis
  • Mandatory
  • A critique or after-action analysis of the incident or your performance
  • A chance to blame other people, agencies or yourself for bad outcomes
How do I know if I’m having a
stress reaction to a call?

It’s not usually hard to tell, but sometimes we choose to ignore the stress generated by bad calls until it’s too late.  The results can show up physically, mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually. 

Recognize any of these?

Difficulty thinking/making decisions
Unable to concentrate/short attention span
Repeated thoughts about/dwelling on the call
Change in appetite
Upset stomach or headache
Muscle tension
Anxiety or fear
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless
Over-identification with victims
Trouble sleeping
Absence from work/don’t want to go to work

What can I do to help myself or others who are having trouble with a call?

Talk about the call with others who will understand or have a fresh perspective.

Take care of your body – eat right, get some exercise, get
enough sleep.

Take extra time to enjoy something you love – listen to music, participate in a hobby, read.

Don’t use alcohol or drugs to avoid the pain or help you sleep – the problem will still be there when they wear off

FAQ’s about CISM

Do I have to participate if a session has been set up?

No, CISM sessions are not mandatory. However, your participation can show support and give encouragement to those co-workers that might need it.

Are these sessions really confidential?

Yes, they really are. CISM team members do not keep a list of those who attend, nor do they make any notes during the session.  The only thing reported back to your superiors is that the session has ended and units may be placed back into service.  CISM team members don’t repeat back anything said during the meeting to officers, outsiders or even other team members.  Attendees that don’t feel they can keep what is said during the session confidential are asked to step out before the session begins.

I’m uncomfortable with the thought of my supervisor hearing what I have to say.  

In general, when a supervisory officer has directly participated in the call, the CISM team will offer a separate session to the officer(s) in order to make everyone comfortable. Session attendees can vote to allow the officer into the general session, but the consensus has to be unanimous.

Who are the sessions for?

Fire, EMS, and dispatch employees from any agency in Manatee County (MCSO has their own team).


For immediate assistance, you can do one of these:

1.  Ask your supervisor to contact the CISM team coordinator; or
2.  Call the unrecorded phone line at ECC (941-749-3541) directly and ask for the CISM team coordinator to contact you (leave a first name & phone number).

If you have any questions regarding CISM or would like to ask about joining our team, please call the team coordinator at 941-749-3549 or 941-713-3011.



Caring for the public safety community and each other.

Call ECC for activation
(unrecorded line answered 24 hours)