When the unthinkable happens in your life, what do you do?

If there’s a fire at your office, a burglar in your house, or your spouse falls down a flight of stairs and breaks their leg, who do you call? If you’re like most people in America, your first instinct is to pick up your phone, dial 9-1-1 and ask the dispatched to send you a first responder.

First responders can be firefighters, police or sheriff’s officers, and emergency medical technicians. And each one of them has taken a pledge to run towards catastrophes that most of us would run away from. First responders are responsible for entering scenes of chaos, and doing what they can to protect and preserve human life.

When the unthinkable happens, we call upon our first responders because we’ve been taught from a young age that they are trained to handle traumatic situations. But is this really true? How often do you stop and think about the effect that constant exposure to the extreme stress of a first responder’s job has on their own physical and emotional well-being? Probably not often. And yes, it does take a toll on them.

Here at Peer Support Central, we are dedicated to helping first responder communities more effectively provide critical incident counseling and training to their members. While there will never be a way to make people ironclad against the emotional impact of critical incident stress, with the proper training and support, we do feel that it’s possible to better prepare them for handling it in a productive way.

Keep reading to learn more about the lack of critical incident training in the first responder industries as well as how Peer Support Central is working to bridge the gap.

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“When Your Mind Tells You Enough Is Enough”

Danger is a daily part of a first responder’s life. Our brains are hardwired to alert us to the presence of danger, and trigger our response to either fight or flee. But first responders rarely get to do either of these things. They are required to quiet their minds and employ their critical incident management training to follow protocol. But sometimes, your mind flees without you.

“Everybody is different, and everybody handles it differently,” Paulsboro Police Chief Chris Wachter told NJ.com. “We all have that opportunity at some point in our careers when your mind tells you enough is enough.”

“You Really Didn’t Have A Lot Of Guidance”

You might think that, given the intense demands of a first responder job, they would undergo significant training about emotional trauma, PTSD, critical incident stress, and incident management, but you’d be wrong.

Not that many years ago, agencies were just required to handle incidents as they happened. There was lots of confusion about who was responsible for what, and those who showed signs of PTSD were often “punished” by being removed from field work or forced to see a traditional therapist who barely understood the demands of the job.

The Stigma Of Showing Your Humanity

Today, there are many more opportunities for critical incident training and mental health therapy among first responders, but as we’ve noted in previous posts, it can still be hard to convince people to take advantage of them.

“Part of the problem is the environment in which firefighters, EMTs, police, and medical personnel do their heroic work. The fast-paced nature of their work settings limits opportunity for expressing feelings about what they see. Maintaining a clinical distance between patients and themselves helps first responders and medical professionals maintain their composure in the worst situations,” explains GoodTherapy.org.

Peer-Driven Critical Incident Training Is Helping To Turn The Tide

So how do we encourage first responders to lower their guard, ask for and accept help, and most importantly, open up to the professionals who can truly assist them via critical incident counseling? We believe that peer support programs are key to removing the stigma and helping more first responders be prepared for the realities of their jobs.

In a peer support program, critical incident management skills are taught by people who have experienced the demands of the job and found a way to survive. This speaks volumes to first responders who feel a special camaraderie with those who have gone through the same training, dealt with the same challenges, and experienced the same traumas.

Contact us to learn more about how you can establish a peer support program in your own community.