Relationship between burnout and PTSD symptoms in firefighters: the moderating effects of a sense of calling to firefighting



Firefighting has been reported to lead to burnout and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, burnout and PTSD symptoms may vary depending on personal characteristics, such as having a sense of calling. This study examined the role of calling in the association between burnout and PTSD symptoms. We hypothesized that burnout would be associated with more severe PTSD symptoms and calling would buffer the relationship between burnout and PTSD symptoms.


The Korean version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey, Sense of Calling Subscale of the Professionalism Scale, and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised-Korean version were used to measure burnout, calling, and PTSD symptoms. Data from 109 of 127 firefighters from Gyeonggi-do, South Korea were analyzed using hierarchical linear regression.


Burnout was a significant predictor of PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, the interaction term between burnout and calling accounted for a significant variance in PTSD symptoms. Higher burnout was associated with severe PTSD symptoms, but this relationship differed by the level of calling. The increase in PTSD symptoms due to increased burnout in the high calling group was relatively higher than in the low and average calling groups.


Calling, though perceived as a positive variable, can be hazardous to exhausted people. A sense of calling as part of one’s job identity should not be encouraged until personal circumstances and characteristics, such burnout symptoms, are evaluated. Identifying context and variables associated with PTSD for interventions with firefighters and persons in other dangerous occupations should aid in their recovery from trauma exposure.

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Correspondence to Gyhye Sung or Kangsoo Lee.

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This study was supported by a Grant of the Korean Mental Health Technology R&D Project, Ministry of Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea (HM15C1058).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Jo, I., Lee, S., Sung, G. et al. Relationship between burnout and PTSD symptoms in firefighters: the moderating effects of a sense of calling to firefighting. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 91, 117–123 (2018) doi:10.1007/s00420-017-1263-6

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  • Firefighters
  • Burnout
  • Calling
  • Posttraumatic symptoms