Ohio chief arranges mental health support for first responders following string of fatal calls

West Chester Twp Fire Department Chief Rick Prinz said the peer support groups allow first responders to debrief and talk through mental health concerns

Denise G. Callahan
Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — West Chester Twp. firefighters and paramedics have responded to a string tragedies over the past week, and counseling sessions have been scheduled for next week to make sure they are coping with the stress.

This week, despite efforts to save them, three people died after a fire in the Princeton Crossing mobile home park. Thomas Kozee Sr., 80; Carole Kozee, 77; and Jennipher Kozee, 56, died at area hospitals after the fire. Smoke inhalation was ruled as the preliminary cause of death for each.

Photo/West Chester Township - Government

A firefighter in his 40s went to the hospital suffering severe dehydration and kidney problems. He was still in ICU Wednesday afternoon but if tests went well might be released.

In the past week emergency crews have responded several incidents where people lost their lives. The bodies of an elderly couple were found by their son on July 6 in the 8800 block of Revere Run after what the coroner's office ruled was a murder-suicide. A typed note was found at the scene. There was also a fatal car Crash on Ohio 747 that day.

The next day there was a fatal crash on Union Centre Boulevard when an eastbound vehicle made an illegal left turn onto Muhlhauser Road and crashed into an oncoming beer truck. The car landed in the Shell station parking lot. The passenger in the car died at the hospital.

Last Friday, crews responded to a suicide in the parking lot of Frisch's on Cincinnati-Dayton Road.

"Certainly it takes a toll especially when it just seems like here lately it's just been one fatality after the next," Fire Chief Rick Prinz said.

Prinz said as a chief he is concerned about the stress his people have been under dealing with these fatalities, so he enlisted the aid of Carmen Kuehn, a firefighter/paramedic on his staff who spearheaded a program about three years ago to help her peers deal with tough situations like these.

She said they will have peer support groups at each of the fire stations next week to help the staff.

"They're going to give a presentation on self-care, things to watch out for, and your behavior and changes and possibly drinking or anger and things like that, and how to manage that," she said.

Prinz said compounding the situation here, Capt. Dave Mainwaring has been deployed with Ohio Task Force One helping sift through the catastrophe in Surfside Fla. where the condominium building collapsed. He will be back on duty next week.

"I can't imagine the horrors that he has witnessed that he is going to have to deal with the rest of his life," Prinz said. "He's coming back to work for us and that has an impact, not only on him but it has a trickledown effect on the people that he supervises and works with. And if he's not happy or in a bad mood that just impacts the entire department."

He said after seeing what his people were dealing with recently he knew he had to take action.

"I reached out to Carmen and said okay we've got to push the reset button here," Prinz said. "Let's get some people in here and let's start this conversation so we can let people debrief and reset a little bit and get stuff off their chests that needs to be talked about and work through any issues."

Kuehn said it used be like "pulling teeth" to get her peers to admit they need help and actually seek it. As a woman during her 32 years in service, it would have been crazy to show what would have been perceived as weakness. She said older firefighters like herself "we were taught to just suck it up." Things have changed.

"A lot of times it's us seeing signs in each other that is really helping," she said. "Because guys aren't going to go 'you know what I don't feel right, I need to talk to someone,' the older guys. Now the younger guys with everything that's been brought up recently, the younger kids in our generation they're the first to reach out."


(c)2021 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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