Texas city hosts stress class for first responders

To help teach first responders how to mitigate that stress, the city of Keene hosted “Resilience Strategies for First Responders”


Jessica Pounds
Cleburne Times-Review, Texas

First responders often witness human suffering, experience an intense workload and are even at times tasked with making life-or-death decisions.

While many do so without hesitation for the betterment of the community, the stress of this environment can potentially lead to depression, PTSD or relationship issues.

“One of the big draws to a career in emergency services — such as police, fire, EMS and emergency dispatch — is the knowledge that you are definitively and directly able to have a positive influence in someone’s life,” Keene Fire Chief Dan Warner said. “People put their trust in you to help them at what is typically a very bad time in their life. It’s a great feeling when the team is able to save someone’s life.”

Warner said the downside to being a public servant is that those types of events, and those where the first responders were unable to provide assistance, can negatively affect them.

“We are all aware of post-traumatic stress disorders among some of our military personnel and veterans. This is well documented,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize, is that this is occurring amongst emergency service personnel also.

“Most first responders are trained and well-equipped to handle acute stress. We are not necessarily as well-equipped with handling chronic stress.”

To help teach first responders how to mitigate that stress, the city of Keene hosted “Resilience Strategies for First Responders,” which is designed for police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel operating in today’s difficult environment.

Topics included:

• Statistics on the toll of a career.

• The career “cycle.”

• The science behind the trauma (hypervigilance, compensatory efforts).

• Understanding stress.

• Specifics of stress in first responders law enforcement (compassion fatigue, PTSI).

• Burnout.

• Addressing stress (physical techniques, relaxation response, EMDR, sleep, mental techniques, preventive measures).

“Classes such as this can help us to have long, and successful careers by providing the tools and strategies to deal with those stresses and the emotions that come with them,” Warner said. “First responders will get tools and strategies to handle various types of stresses, such as acute and chronic stress, better.

“This will improve their emotional health and promote a healthy outlook not only while on duty, but also away from the job. This kind of stress can affect our lives at home.

“Have you ever had a bad day at work and then, inadvertently, taken that frustration home and into the lives of your family? A class such as this teaches our first responders how to mitigate those feelings and emotions so that they do not negatively affect their lives, whether they are at work or at home.”

Johnson County Emergency Support Services Director Randal Goodwin attended the class, and said the information that was discussed was helpful.

“Firefighters have a 300 percent rate higher than a normal person to get diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure,” he said. “And, the divorce rate for first responders is 60 percent.

“Can you imagine that? You are happily married to the love of your life and 20 years on the job starts to take a toll on you and now you don’t want to be near them. A lot of that is brought on by stress from the job.”

Goodwin said first responders have the No. 3 most stressful job.

“No. 1 is pilot and No. 2 is combat soldier,” he said. “But first responders see more stressful situations in their career than a military person will.”

That stress, Goodwin said, has caused the attrition rate of volunteer firefighters.

“After a paid call, the guys go back to their station and finish their shift and get to talk about it with each other,” he said. “The volunteers, they go home. We’re noticing those who showed up to every call aren’t coming as often or even come to training anymore. Something broke them.”

Keene Fire Capt. George Duron said the class helped him learn ways to identify when first responders are stressed.

“We will be able to start identifying characteristics in our employees that are assigned to us, without them having to come to us,” he said. “We can identify them before them become real problems, either on the job or at home.”

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©2019 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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