The Dark Reality of American Heroes

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First Responders see the things that we see in our nightmares. They risk their lives to go into burning buildings, to stop an active shooter, to save lives. They put others before themselves, but who’s putting them first?

In most fire departments and police stations, there are peer support groups that help give support to those who had a difficult call or lost a patient. They were created to be there for the people that are trying to be there for everyone else. These support groups are a recent thing, within the past 5 years. It used to be administration meetings, instead of one on one time.

“I believed they’ve saved lives. I really do.” Said Patrick Kinnier, a first responder in Anne Arundel County, MD. He is one of the leaders of the support group in his department. He hears the problems, and sees everything first hand. “People just want someone to say, ‘Hey, I’ll listen.’ They don’t need to understand, just to listen.”

The suicide rate in fire fighters, paramedics and police has skyrocketed within the past few years. The things these people see, what they do, is not easy. There needs to be more of a focus on first responder mental health. We need to focus on saving the people who save us.

Everyday, first responders are saving people from drug overdoses on substances like Heroin, Fentanyl, Opioids, and laced drugs. These drugs, if laced with the wrong substance can make people become violent and do some gruesome things to themselves or others. Our first responders have to see that, help them and move on to the next call. So, how does that effect their mental health?

“The load is equally heavy on all sides for different reasons.” Patrick Kinnier said, referring to how what they see hits them all in different ways. Police, fire, and paramedics are all taking peoples lives into their hands and have to figure out a healthy way of how to deal with what they see.

Not only are these people seeing terrible things, but they spend a lot of time away from home and away from their families. Having to be away from your spouse, and kids and then having to see those things can eat away at who you are.

The US Fire Administration has been taking steps to offer these people the help they need. First responders are exposed to death and destruction which can contribute to PTSD. The stigma around mental health has stopped many people from talking about it and getting help. That is why fire stations around the country and the Fire Administration are working towards giving them resources to help get through what they have seen.