The impact of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on the partners of firefighters

Betty Pfefferbaum, Carol S North, Kenneth Bunch, Teddy G. Wilson, Phebe Tucker, John K. Schorr

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31 Scopus citations


This study explored the impact of the 1995 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing on the spouses and significant others of a volunteer sample of Oklahoma City firefighters who participated in the bombing rescue effort. Twenty-seven partners of Oklahoma City firefighters participated in this study, conducted 42 to 44 months after the bombing. These partners were assessed using a structured diagnostic interview and a companion interview to examine exposure, rates of psychiatric disorders and symptoms, functioning, health, and relationships. Coping and perception of the firefighter partner's response were also examined. Some of the women were exposed directly; most knew someone who had been involved in the disaster, and all reported exposure through the media. The rate of psychiatric disorders in the women following the disaster was 22%, essentially unchanged from before the incident. One developed bomb-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most were satisfied with their work performance; 15% reported that their health had worsened since the bombing, and more than one third reported permanent changes in relationships as a result of the bombing. Most coped by turning to friends or relatives, with less than 10% seeking professional help. Many described symptoms in their firefighter mate; all reported that their mate had been affected by the experience, and one half said their mate had fully recovered. The mates of these firefighters fared relatively well in terms of psychiatric disorders, symptoms, and ability to function. The prevalence of bomb-related post-traumatic stress disorder was considerably lower in this sample than in samples of individuals more directly exposed to the bombing, although some reported changes in relationships and health. The results suggest the need for further study of the impact of interpersonal exposure in those who provide support for rescue-and-recovery workers in major terrorist incidents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-372
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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