The Hot, Walk and Talk Protocol

Developed by Dr. Patricia Fisher, 2012

This protocol applies when there has been no physical injury and the person is stable enough in the aftermath to proceed. In the event that the individual has been physically injured or is in shock you would need to follow emergency procedures and get the appropriate immediate medical resources.

This protocol is designed to provide helpful first aid immediately after a team member experiences a particularly distressing or disturbing incident and is undergoing a completely normal stress reaction. This is something either supervisors or peers can offer each other and you will consider what would work best for you in your particular circumstances.

Remember that when we are experiencing a high stress response our body is in the flight, fight or freeze state and we are flooding with stress hormones and all the physical, emotional and cognitive responses that go with that. So, our first response introduces safety and containment for the person.


  • Safety First: Ensure that the person is physically out of danger. Instruct the person to walk away from the area where the incident occurred and toward a neutral or safe area. Encourage them to get outside if they are able.
  • Drink: Ask the person to get a bottle of water to drink while they walk.
  • Walk: If it is prudent to do so, you can walk with the person, otherwise, this process can be done over the phone. Encourage the person to set a brisk pace to help them discharge some of the distress. As they continue to walk, they may naturally slow the pace.
  • Normalize & Support: Let them know that they are safe, that their reaction to stress is normal, and that you are there to support them.
  • Debrief: Ask them to tell you what happened in their own words. If they get stuck on a particular moment, prompt them to move on with a guiding statement such as: “and then what happened?” The goal is to help them move through the whole narrative from beginning to the end – until they get to the present where they are walking in safety and are no longer at risk.
  • Incident Report: You may work in an environment where you are required to complete an incident report. If this is the case, ask them how you can help in completing the report. They may want you to type in the information as they dictate it, or they may simply appreciate your support while they complete the report.
  • Breathing: Remember to remind them to focus on their breathing and open posture to help them deescalate from the stress response – especially after they have stopped walking.
  • Next Steps: After the initial debrief, ask the person what they would find helpful: do they want to phone a family member, get a snack, take a break, go back to work? They need to have control over their choices while attending to their needs.
  • Additional Support: Let the individual know that you will remain available to them and encourage them to access addition supports that may be available (e.g., Employee Assistance Programs, counselling, etc.)

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