Local agencies address mental toll of emergencies on first responders

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – As prayer services begin in the East, different agencies across North Carolina want to make sure first responders have options available in the event of tragic events.

Agency leaders said having procedures and protocols in place for tragedies are necessary, and they want to make sure all members of staff have options available for them.

First responders, firefighters and police officers are sometimes forgotten about as victims when arriving on a scene.

Ira Whitford, the assistant director for Craven County Emergency services, has years of experience and said he isn’t afraid to let his workers know the dangers of not talking with someone.

“You can tell a lot of times by the way people act, their emotions change, their physical characteristics change when stress is really bothering them,” said Whitford.

Critical incident stress management teams are one of the many resources available for first responders.

One key factor is the use of outside county agencies helping them cope with tragedies.

“There are people trained to talk to rescue personnel,” said Whitford. “If it’s fire-related, there are certain ones trained to talk with fire personnel and the same as law enforcement.”

Deputy Chief Ted Sauls is an advocate of letting officers know they aren’t alone.

“We’ve got about a three-prong approach, one being critical stress debriefing, one being the FMRT group that we have access to here locally and the other being our city structure, which is around the employee’s assistant program,” said Sauls.

It’s also a move to let officers and first responders know there are resources to help them.

“It is extremely important to us that when they are exposed to something that is a critical incident that is bothersome, or something that’s likely to impact them personally that we provide the resources that are available,” said Sauls.

The Badge of Life organization supports the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-TALK.

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