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Post traumatic stress and first responders

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Post traumatic stress isn't a subject to be taken lightly. Anyone and everyone can be affected. Often times PTSD is associated with the military, but our first responders may be faced with overcoming post traumatic stress symptoms as well.

Due to the high demands of the job, both physically and mentally, first responders are high on the risk list. This is why there are programs in place to ensure those in charge of keeping us safe are safe themselves.

One resource can be found right in the Amarillo Fire Department.

The CISM program is offered directly through AFD and is a team of firefighter personnel trained to identify symptoms and provide guidance to their peers.

"The way PTSD works is what might be a traumatic event or call for one person is not for me. But if these resources aren’t available or they aren’t utilized, those issues and those problems slowly just start to stack up," said Eric Clark, Amarillo Fire Department chaplain. "So with this program we try to catch these, what we call significant calls early so that we can begin to process them sooner and quicker and maybe don’t have issues later on."

24 to 72-hours after an event, the CISM crew will hold a debriefing for all those involved in an incident, including ambulance personnel, police officers, fire crews, and dispatchers.

Clark said the time window allows those involved to process the event and it's happenings on their own. It also gives the CISM crew time to find a venue and contact the agencies involved to get the debrief set up. The goal is to give everyone who was impacted, the opportunity to be there and receive CISM's services.

"There is a protocol, a list of questions that we basically go over and we let them lead themselves through it because the more they talk about it or write it down the less intrusive these thoughts can become," said Clark.

There's always been a negative stigma surrounding PTSD, but in recent years it has been put in the spotlight helping those needing help realize they aren't alone.

"It is a negative stigma, saying oh I’m weak, I can’t handle this. And as a man, sometimes guys have a hard time acknowledging that," said Clark. "But now with all the information out there we are realizing this can truly lengthen our careers and make us a more healthy person to come home, to take care of our kids, to not have these thoughts and having to use negative outlets to cope and take care of that."

Clark said that often times his fellow firefighters and first responders are more willing to open up and talk to him and other CISM members. They want to know that the CISM crew is going to keep an eye on them and they usually take the crews recommendations more seriously.

The CISM program is a join effort between Amarillo and Lubbock fire departments. For larger scale events sometimes either fire department will have to call on the other for CISM services because when team members are on the scene they are not allowed to lead a call.

The two fire departments work together to provide services to the Panhandle. AFD covers the upper counties and Lubbock covers the lower ones. Clark said most of the time CISM is utilized more so in the volunteer departments in the rural areas than in Amarillo.

Together AFD and Lubbock are working on getting a regional CISM team set up to better serve Panhandle first responders.

First responders have other resources available to them as well. Through the city of Amarillo there is the employee assistance program. Foundation 1023 is a non-profit organization which was created specifically for first responders and their families. And the Pavilion at Northwest Texas Hospital has a unit dedicated to PTSD. All programs are completely confidential.

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