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Direct assistance to victims in rescue operations as a risk factor for post-traumatic stress disorder in police officers: The experience of the Toulouse disaster in 2001

Nelly Agrinier, MD, Artus Albessard, MD, Valerie Schwoebel, MD, PhD, Eloi Diène, MD, Thierry Lang, MD, PhD


Objective: The aim of this study was to describe the prevalence of symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (S-PTSD) in police personnel involved in rescue operations after the AZF chemical plant explosion in Toulouse, France, on September 21, 2001, and the relationship between S-PTSD and the type of rescue operation.
Design: A cross-sectional survey was performed, using a mailed questionnaire.
Participants: Six hundred and thirty-five out of 1,500 rescue operations police officers participated in the study. All were involved with the explosion site after the industrial disaster.
Main outcome measure: The outcome variable was the presence of S-PTSD.The explanatory variables were the level of exposure during the rescue tasks.
Statistics: Logistic regression was used to calculate the adjusted odds ratios (OR).
Results: The prevalence of S-PTSD among policemen was 4.1 percent [95% CI: 2.1-6.2]. Policemen who had immediate health consequences (OR 4.6; [95% CI: 1.3-16.4]) and those who provided medical assistance to the victims (OR 5.7; [95% CI: 1.6-20.2]) had a higher prevalence of S-PTSD.
Conclusions: Providing medical assistance to the victims was a major risk factor of S-PTSD for police officers. Training police officers to take part in medical activities at the time of the disaster might lead to a reduction of SPTSD incidence in this group.


post-traumatic stress disorder; police officers; rescue workers; industrial disaster; cross-sectional study

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