Fifty-eight non-professional fire fighters, 91% of all firefighters from different industries who participated in a hotel fire rescue operation, were investigated by means of a structured self-report questionnaire about their stress experience during and after the rescue action. Together with 57 professional fire fighters, they participated in rescuing hotel guests confined for as much as three hours in a 12 storeyed hotel building on fire. Fourteen persons (11%) died, 114 guests survived. Forty-seven percent of the non-professional fire fighters reported that the disaster experience was the worst they had ever experienced. Even so, 80% thought that they had coped with the job well to fairly well and for as many as 66% the rescue action represented something positive to them in retrospect. Ten percent claimed that stress reactions disturbed them in executing effective rescue work. Fifty-eight percent maintained that more preparation and training could have improved their effort. Fire fighters with previous practical experience seemed to "digest" the disaster experience more easily than inexperienced fire fighters as measured by the Impact of Event Scale. High level of competence and opportunity for debriefing as well as disaster characteristics are discussed as factors explaining the favourable coping with extreme stress.