Digital Exclusive: Protecting first responders, after the call

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) Being prepared to see horrific scenes is part of the interview process for every first responder but every day, thousands answer the call not knowing exactly what they’ll be facing.

Firefighting is much more than saving cats from trees. Paramedics are responsible for so much more than CPR. When the alarm sounds, first responders must be prepared for the worst.

Chiefs from all departments have lifetimes of experience with the good and most traumatic of experiences. Fading are the ‘grin and bear it’ times for first responders as yesterday’s rookies become today’s leadership. Instead, departments foster a sense of camaraderie to aid newcomers into their roles and help them cope with everything from minor accidents to fatal fires.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Hanover Township Fire Department Chief Joe Temarantz. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff but you never say ‘I’ve seen it all.’ That is a true statement and for the younger guys you really have to put your arm around them and say ‘hey, I’ve got your back’.”

When it comes to traumatic experiences, many rely on their fellow firefighters, officers, EMTs and paramedics.

“I’m very fortunate to be part of such a great group of guys. We might joke, we might get mad and we might piss each other off sometimes, but when something like that happens it’s a second family,” said Hanover Township Fire Department Lieutenant Michael Meeker. “You come together and you really show each other that you care.”

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for bouncing back and when talking with coworkers becomes insufficient, the finest and bravest can turn to professionals and programs like Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM).

The program is more organized than just a station sit-down and those heading up the conversation say they see almost immediate results.

“Usually when they come in you can tell it’s very tense and they’re upset. Once we start the process and they realize that the majority of us have been out there doing exactly what they do and have dealt with critical incidents, they are more receptive to the process,” said Robert Carpenter, Regional EMS Education Coordinator for EMS of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “We see by the end of the debriefing that people, generally, are doing quite a bit better.”

Units can reach out for help and sometimes coordinators will communicate before they get the call but there’s still an immediate need for attention. Research collected by the Ruderman Family Foundation cites 2017 statistics that say first responders are more likely to take their own lives than fall in the line of duty. The study does not take into account emergency medical services.

“There needs to be some kind of mental health for first responders because first responders have a higher suicide rate than a lot of other jobs,” said Alex Tamgnini, a paramedic for the Nanticoke Community Ambulance Association.

EMS of Northeastern Pennsylvania runs the CISM programs and points those in need in the direction of even further assistance.

“I think a lot of fire service doesn’t even know that some of the resources are out there until a situation like that happens and someone comes and tells them,” Meeker said.

State legislatures currently have House Bill 432 tabled but if brought up again, it could help include post traumatic stress disorder on worker’s compensation claims.

“It’s a very personal thing, dealing with death and dying,” Delaney said. “I think mental health is just as important as physical health when you’re an emergency responder.”

This is part of a two part story. Earlier this week Eyewitness News looked at how responders are gearing up to protect and rescue.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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