First Responders handle people’s ‘Worst Days’ on the daily. You may have stopped and wondered how a person working as a First Responder can go through so many dangerous, intense situations and come out the other side ready to handle the next emergency. Maybe, you have family or friends who are first responders and you think about how you can help them the most. No matter your relation to a first responder it is important to be a support to them as they work in their profession. The information shared in this article, will help civilians (or, people who aren’t first responders) understand a bit more about the background of First Responders and explore a few tips on how to help a loved one working in these professions.
First Responders have challenges in their jobs that few others face, first responders also commonly have a strong support network within their job that helps them handle these situations. This supportive network is different depending on which fire house, police department, or ambulance company, but these various companies and departments make a conscious effort to support each other. Some examples, with links below, are retired law enforcement officer Owsinski discussing camaraderie in the form of officers traveling across jurisdictions to help in post-disaster relief and NYPD officers showing support for each other in the NYC Marathon. The 2023 Winter Games of FASNY (Firemen’s Association of the State of New York) brought together 31 departments from across the state to participate in camaraderie building games this winter. Examples of camaraderie and support can also be more subtle, like first responders debriefing after a call where a tough situation came up. It’s important to recognize that first responders often have supports and ways of coping that help them routinely process and move on from stressful events. That being said, stressors – from work and home and whatever else – do add up and getting help as a first responder is often a daunting task which you can help with.
There are several ways you can help a loved one who is a first responder cope with the challenges of their life and work. A common – and understandable – misconception of someone who is close to a first responder is to think that the only way for their loved one to cope with their stress is if they share about all of the things that are bothering them. Even if your loved one is going through a post-traumatic experience, being supportive to someone can be as simple as doing ‘normal’ everyday activities with them, like going for a walk or just spending time together.
It is likely that not every event/call your loved one goes through has ‘traumatized’ them. First responders go through events that are potentially traumatizing on a near daily basis and some of these events are likely going to affect them more than others. For example, in a recent interview, a firefighter shared that some of the events that affected him the most were calls that hit close to home. He shared that the calls that affected him the most were calls that were simple and straightforward – with no threat to life or property involved – yet they reminded him of struggles in his own life, and that impacted him more than the calls that make the newspaper front page. This example parallels the literature on trauma, where not everyone experiences, or is affected by, the same event in the same way.
If your loved one has expressed interest in seeking help through counseling or if they are experiencing symptoms that are interfering with their life, let them know that there are resources available, specifically for them. Below are links to resources specifically designed to help first responders.
Through responderstrong.org there are a number of crisis lines for first responders
- Safe Call Now, is a confidential, 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees, emergency service personnel, and family members nationwide. Call: 206-459-3020
- Fire/EMS Helpline, through the National Volunteer Fire Council is a confidential 24-hour Helpline created for first responders by those in the fire service. Call: 1-888-731-FIRE(3473)
- Cop Line, a confidential 24 hour service for law enforcement officers, staffed by retired law enforcement officers who are trained in active listening. Call: 1-800-267-5463
For immediate mental health emergencies, we recommend calling the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or dialing 9-1-1 for first responders in your area. If you are a first responder or want to help one and would like additional support, we would be happy to connect with you. Reach out to Capital EAP and our clinicians are willing and able to help you along this journey.
By, Christopher Shepherd, MHC, Capital EAP Counselor