"If it stops, then I'll start worrying." Humor as part of the fire service culture, specifically as part of coping with critical incidents

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Firefighters are reluctant to talk about firefighters’ humor with outsiders. This closed attitude has led to a lack of understanding of this important coping strategy in the outside world. It is not clear how firefighters experience humor and its role as part of the fire service culture and why they consider humor to be important when coping with critical incidents. Data has been collected by means of 20 participant observations and 72 interviews with Dutch firefighters from 37 different fire stations. Joking culture and joviality are important elements of the Dutch fire service culture. Firefighter humor usually creates unity, but can also lead to exclusion. Whether a joke is perceived as funny depends on who makes the joke, the moment, the content, and the frequency of the joke. Black humor is used as a means to start a conversation and, indirectly, to make it possible to discuss emotions and it tends to positively influence group dynamics. However, black humor is absent in the case of certain critical incidents because of personal boundaries and unwritten rules. The absence of humor is a sign for the crew commander to pay extra attention to coping.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-50
Number of pages20
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2022


  • critical incidents
  • fire service culture
  • firefighters
  • humor
  • informal peer support

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