Editor’s note: Amber J. Bosse, PhD is a facilitator and coach specializing in trauma-informed, community-centered methodologies. Through her consultancy, MapBosse Co., she offers workshops for local organizers, activists, and researchers working within communities that have lived experiences of trauma. Amber recently held a three-part workshop for the Fire Networks on trauma-informed care. In this blog, she shares on the importance of trauma-awareness in the fire world, and offers steps anyone can take to become more trauma-informed.

Take a moment. Pay attention to your breath. Where does it sit in your body? What qualities does it have? What descriptors might you use to paint a picture of the character of your breath in this moment?

What thoughts come to mind as you encounter this invitation to bring awareness to your body as it is right now? Do you perhaps find yourself easily taking up the task? Or perhaps there is a pause instilled with curiosity as to why you’re getting asked to do this? Or there may even be a resistance and internal dialogue wondering: what does paying attention to my breath have to do with fire resilience? 

The answer to this question: personal and collective safety.

Paying attention to the breath is just one of the many embodied tools we can use to help create connection to ourselves (which in turn can allow us to create connection with others) in any given moment. Being connected is a cornerstone to establishing and maintaining a sense of safety, belonging, and dignity. These three elements of safety, belonging, and dignity are considered to be fundamental human needs (Haines 2019) and it is when these needs are not met that trauma emerges in a person’s life. 

Those working in fire resilience are likely no stranger to the concept of trauma. Wildfire can devastate entire communities, leaving residents to grapple with the aftermath of destruction and grief at a large scale. Elevating your capacity to intentionally work alongside trauma can expand your capacity to create opportunities for safety, belonging, and dignity for individuals and communities. Expanding these capacities can allow your work to become more impactful for those you’re serving as well as sustainable for yourself as a fire resiliency practitioner. This increased capacity and integration into one’s work is referred to as being “trauma-informed.” The remainder of this entry provides a brief introduction for steps that can be taken to becoming trauma-informed. 


One of the first steps to becoming trauma-informed is increasing one’s trauma competency. This includes deepening our understanding of how trauma emerges and the impacts it can have on individuals and communities. 

Trauma can stem from events that cause a person or community to experience notable rupture in an ability to access a sense of safety, belonging, and dignity. Such events can be acute (one time, unexpected, and stressful event), chronic (repeated exposure to traumatic events), or complex (multiple types of traumatic events that combine to create a unique trauma experience) and can happen at multiple scales ranging from individual, family, community, or even across generations. Effects from such events vary widely and can be experienced on any level of perception-physically, mentally, emotionally or even spiritually. This can be experienced as being unable to regulate behavior and emotions, hypervigilance, numbing patterns, challenges fostering trust in relationships, self isolation, troubles with sleep, or gaps in memories (just to name a few). Effects may be immediate or they may be delayed. A World Mental Health Survey of nearly 70,000 people across 24 countries states that 70% of respondents reported living through a traumatic event. Those who confronted traumatic experiences in their youth are four times more likely to have a chronic illness, 10 times more likely to have experiences with substance abuse, and 12 times more likely to have suffered from suicidality. 

This demonstrates that trauma is not reserved for those who have experienced devastation at the scale that can occur during and after a fire event. “Small scale” trauma is pervasive and valid. Similarly, while the impacts of living through a fire event may be a particular type of trauma, other types of trauma are prevalent. By widening our understanding of scale and type of experiences through which trauma can emerge, we develop a broader understanding of what trauma is and how it functions. With this awareness, we can see that it is important to expand our capacities to work alongside trauma for all areas of fire resiliency. Any time we are working with a community (whether that’s prevention efforts, policy discussion, resident mitigation, or establishing partnerships across local organizations), trauma is likely present and therefore trauma-informed approaches should not be relegated to only recovery efforts. Rather, fire resiliency practitioners can focus on exploring ways to instill a sense of safety, belonging, and dignity throughout all stages of their work. 


The journey of building your trauma-informed toolkit asks us to dive into nuanced considerations of what safety, belonging, and dignity look like in the particular context you’re working in and, oftentimes, invites us to make adjustments to our words and actions to better support their emergence/persistence. Such adjustments can be challenging. However, the potential benefits of this transformation are often far-reaching. By embracing a trauma-informed lens, fire resiliency practitioners can not only better serve and support affected communities but also cultivate a deeper sense of security and sustainability for themselves. 

When people feel safe, secure in their sense of belonging, and dignified in their presence, this can lead to increased engagement and participation in community serving efforts. For fire resilience, this could look like wider involvement in prevention efforts and embracing of mitigation strategies. Secondly, a trauma-informed approach can improve the overall effectiveness of fire resiliency programs by considering the unique needs and experiences of those the program is serving. Trauma can shape perceptions, decision-making processes, and coping mechanisms in profound ways. By acknowledging and responding to these complexities, wildfire resiliency  initiatives can be tailored to resonate more deeply and yield greater long-term impact.

Furthermore, the very nature of fire resiliency work exposes practitioners to distressing situations and opportunities for developing vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. These occupational hazards can take a toll on mental health and well-being, ultimately hindering the ability to provide effective and sustainable services. By fostering a trauma-informed culture of practice, organizations can better support their leaders and volunteers to mitigate burnout, and promote a healthier community.


So, how can fire resiliency practitioners begin their journey toward becoming trauma-informed? Here are some suggested steps:

Educate yourself and your team: Seek out opportunities to learn about the principles of trauma-informed care (such as SAMHSA’s guide for developing a trauma-informed approach), the impact of trauma, and best practices for creating spaces and events that promote the establishment of a sense of safety, belonging, and dignity. 

Conduct organizational assessments: Evaluate your current policies, procedures, and practices to identify areas where trauma-informed approaches can be integrated. Involve stakeholders, including affected communities, in this process.

Continuously evaluate and adapt: Trauma-informed practices are not a one-time endeavor; they require ongoing evaluation, adjustment, and improvement based on feedback and evolving needs.

Practice self-care and connection to self: Encourage and support self-care practices for yourself and among your team members to prevent burnout and secondary traumatic stress. When you are in connection to yourself and taking steps to prioritize a sense of safety, belonging, and dignity in your own system, that allows you to provide cues of safety for others. Taking care of yourself is truly one of the best ways to also take care of others. So, returning to the breath practice from the start of this entry…

    Take a moment. Pay attention to your breath. Tune in. Ask yourself this question: What is one thing I can do right now that will give my body a cue of safety? If an answer arises, take a moment and (to the best of your ability)  follow through on providing that one thing. 

    A gentle reminder that becoming trauma-informed is not merely about simply adopting new protocols or policies; it is about cultivating a fundamental shift in mindset and approach – one that recognizes the pervasive impact of trauma and strives to create environments that promote healing, resilience, and empowerment. By embracing this transformative paradigm, those working in wildfire resiliency can only further enrich the approaches they use to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they work alongside and serve.

    [For those seeking additional information on ways to elevate their trauma competency, please feel welcome to explore this collection of resources


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