‘We’re here now’
: Caring, Feeling and Meaningful Space within the British Fire and Rescue Service

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Previous research on the Fire and Rescue Service focused on how Firefighters made sense of traumatic experiences (e.g. Acker, 1990; Baigent, 2001; Collinson & Hearn, 2005; Crowe & Brugha, 2018; Green et al., 2010; Farnsworth and Sewell, 2011). Research argued that there was a clear cultural resistance to the ‘doing’ of feeling within emergency spaces (Batty & Burchielli, 2011; Crowe and Brugha, 2018). The need for containment was argued to reflect gendered assumptions that to make ‘rational’ and ‘safe’ decisions; you needed to embody emotional control (Baigent, 2001; Childs, Morris, & Ingham, 2004; Khona, 2014; Lockyear, 2011; McCourt, 2011). However, Firefighters are confronted with death, distress and loss as part of their job role, seemingly leaving them with no ‘space’ to make sense of difficult experiences. The current research, therefore, used a Phenomenological approach to tease out ‘what it was like’ as a British Firefighter. This thesis used a ‘prism’ of phenomenological, discursive and critical phenomenologists to facilitate the ‘making sense of’, process (e.g. Cataldi, 1993; Foucault, 1980; Merleau-Ponty, 1945; Simonsen, 2010; Simonsen and Koefoed, 2020; Van Manen, 1984; 1990;1994;2014; Young, 1980). I highlighted three key ‘themes’ that made sense of the interviewees experiences. The first theme explored ‘Body and Space: the professional front and felt space’. This theme explored the produced ‘need’ to be bodily contained to ‘do’ emergency work. Although the interviewees explored the need to contain the self until somewhere ‘safe’ they also indicated that there was a lack of clarity with regards to the bounding of this ‘safe space’. The second theme centred on humour. Humour was both necessary and purposeful; a modality to talk and remould experience, as well as a mechanism to facilitate talk. However, humour also prevented members of the service from ‘really’ talking; it acted to distract from, but not truly manage and ‘talk about’, distressing incidents. The final theme reflected caring as a firefighter. Caring was produced as ‘somebody else's job’ and therefore often ‘outsourced’ to those who were ‘trained to do it’ (I.e. the Red Cross, the Police Force, and paramedics). However, while the surface level of their talk indicated that they resisted care, the interviewees explored complex and subtle acts of care, where they ‘did’ care for victims, families and bystanders. The research raised the importance of considering firefighters lived experience of care and felt experience of loss. My findings indicate the need to explore beyond discourse which problematises the firefighter culture and pathologises firefighters experiences of coping. Future work needs to explore beyond the surface level of talk, making sense of the subtle undertones of feeling bodies and felt space within emergency service work.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Stirling
SupervisorJane Callaghan (Supervisor) & Lisa Fellin (Supervisor)


  • Fire Service
  • Emotion
  • Feeling
  • Distress
  • Mental Health
  • Masculinities
  • gender

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