Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the Editor: First impressions

Laura Aiken   

Features editors pick

Your April edition of Canadian Firefighter magazine has arrived, and with it, the hint of warmer temperatures to come and glimpses of green in the smatterings of crocus shoots peeking up through the softening earth. The first sights of spring make for a good time to consider how important our first impressions really are.

April’s cover story, “Training Connections”, is the first in a three-part series and focuses on integrating psychological first aid into your training so you are better primed to deliver it during response. A key consideration of psychological first aid is how the impression you make on your patient affects them. For firefighters, first impressions go a long way in the community and on scene. Lots of numbers have floated around on the topic, such as having just 60 seconds to make the right impression on someone, and an impression that will be difficult overturn. You might be surprised just how fast a first impression is made.

A study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2017 examined the initial glance in the context of a potential mate and found that people need as little as 33 milliseconds to form a first impression of trustworthiness, status and attractiveness, an impression that doesn’t vary much from the one formed at 100 milliseconds, the speed evaluated by researchers at Princeton in 2006. Thirty milliseconds sure isn’t much time to prepare. The average blink is 100 to 400 milliseconds, as recorded by Harvard’s BioNumbers database. We don’t make first impressions in the blink of an eye — we make them in less.

Voice plays a significant role alongside presentation.  Phil McAleer, a psychologist with the University of Glasgow who led a study called “How Do You Say Hello? Personality Impressions from Brief Novel Voices”, noted this: “The results showed that from brief utterances containing limited information, akin to a first impression, listeners showed high consistency in their ratings of perceived personality.” Just a brief snippet of sound is all we need.


A patient isn’t like a potential employer or romantic partner, traditional interactions for formidable first impression making. But as Steve Piluso, an expert in delivering first aid and author our cover story explains, your impression can contribute to a better outcome for the patient by establishing a connection that is safe and comforting, one that can help regulate body functions like heart and respiratory rates. You might not be facing a potential long-term relationship with your patient, but you are facing a critical juncture of impact, one whose outcome will most certainly be felt long-term.

On the note of firsts, Canadian Firefighter welcomes a brand-new contributor in firefighter James Rychard. James will be penning a new column, Psycological PPE, for each edition. The new column is being introduced as Sean Kingswell has retired his Tools of the Trade column. Thank you Sean for the many insightful and motivating articles and welcome James to the Canadian Firefighter contributor team! 

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