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Ohio first responders restart peer support group to face recent challenges

The Critical Incident Stress Management of Ashtabula County kicked off a training event focusing on dealing with traumatic situations



By Warren Dillaway
Star Beacon

SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP, Ohio — First responders are always looking out for others and often don’t take the time to care for themselves after dealing with traumatic and stressful situations.

The Critical Incident Stress Management of Ashtabula County team is seeking to change that as a peer group to help people manage all the death and destruction they encounter on a regular basis.

Dale Arkenburg, former Geneva fire chief, is part of the leadership team and said there was a peer group many years ago and this effort was re-started due to the challenges facing first responders during the last three years.

Brian Turk is the clinical director of the group and a captain for the Windsor Fire Department. He said he has been involved in firefighting for 21 years and also has a Master’s degree in the mental health field.

He works for Glenbeigh in mental health and addiction recovery.

Glenbeigh sponsored the First Responder Wellness Training event Saturday at Harvest Church in Saybrook Township. The goal was to help first responders deal with the traumatic events they face, said Glenbeigh Director of Development Sheila Vandergriff.

More than 30 people from Ashtabula, Trumbull, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties participated.

Glenbeigh President Gary Seech, who also was a first responder, said the event will hopefully help first responders process all that they see. He said there were times when his inability to process events affected his wellness.

Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness Director Steven M. Click was the main speaker for the event. He was also an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper for 36 years.

Click talked about the guilt that can come with first responder work because so much is at stake. He said often the frustration about not being able to do more or be at a scene or arrive quicker can be a problem for first responders.

Click said people should seek counseling if they have difficulty having recovery sleep after a traumatic incident.

“We feel grief that isn’t ours,” he said.

The path to helping others started back in the 1990s, Click said. He was involved in a peer support group and it grew into a full-time position in 2016 when OHP asked him to lead a post-critical-incident team.

In 2001, Click was also part of a peer support team that assisted the New York Police Department after the bombing of the World Trade Center. He said he was asked to participate in assisting first responders on two different occasions at the time.

“This is not work. I love meeting people around the state,” he said.

Arkenburg said area departments have bought into the peer team concept and are working to meet people’s needs. He said prevention will hopefully keep people from self-medicating and ending up in need of rehabilitation.

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