In the public safety field, one of the least addressed topics is the mental wellness of our responders. When tragedy and violence hit, we're the first to be there. Having to care for people when they are at their worst, and having to deal with the impact of the call, can take its toll.
This tends to impact the first responders in many different ways. These individuals might be the first people to see the tragedy but they are the last to admit that it has had any emotional or mental effect to them. So, when an outside group comes in to intervene or defuse the situation, there is resistance from the first responders
First responders tend to rely on their comrades in the field. When outside groups or people try to intervene, the responders tend to be reluctant to their offers of help. "You have no idea what we do" is usually the cause for reluctance.
This is why we created a peer-driven support group that we call the Horry County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The team is made up of 11 peer support members, four councilors, one training instructor and one chaplain.
The CIT is continuing to grow and manage all of its internal staff as well as other departments in the local area. They are also recruiting police and 911 dispatchers to round off the group. This will make the CIT very versatile.
Horry County Fire Rescue covers more than 1,134 square miles and responds to more than 42,000 calls per year. The department is made up of 275 full-time uniformed staff and 200 volunteers.
The CIT for Horry County is no stranger to unique and very stressful calls. Some of the calls that the CIT has had to intervene with have been:
Horry County Fire Rescue roll-over engine call that had three firefighters and a lieutenant trapped
Horry County Fire Rescue volunteer went into cardiac arrest during a medical call and had to be intervened by the same members who responded with him
Horry County responded to a fellow firefighter's home, where he had already committed suicide. The crew prior to his shift from his own station responded
Multiple child abuse calls; some with death as a result
Multiple drowning calls involving children at local motel pools
Motor vehicle accident deaths involving children and infants
Multi- casualty incidents involving a large number of deaths
These are just some of the calls that have made an impact to Horry County Fire Rescue staff over the past couple of years. Those who responded to these have had the opportunity to get help from the CIT with positive results.
The CIT has also put together a White Paper to describe some of the statistics from the past three years. This paper will give other departments information in the field of crisis management so that they too can make their wellness program complete. Check it out here
About the author
Michael Medeiros is the wellness coordinator at Horry County (S.C.) Fire Rescue. He has been a firefighter-EMT for 11 years and working on a BA in Health Science. Medeiros is a certified trainer with the National Endurance Sports Trainers Association and has worked as a personal trainer and strength coach for the past 15 years. He is a regular competitor in the Firefighter Combat Challenge, with three top 10 finishes to his name, and recently launched the website, FitnessforFire.com. To contact Michael, email Michael.Medeiros@FireRescue1.com.
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