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The Trauma they face: PTSD in First Responders




For firefighters and police officers, a regular day at work can involve daily close encounters with danger, chaos and tragedy.  These courageous men and women understand their job includes saving the lives of others, and at times that life may be too far gone to save. They understand a normal traffic stop may turn into the end of their watch forever. They understand that when they leave their family to begin their shift, they risk never coming home.  Regardless, they bravely gear up and take on every call, prepared to give their citizens what they need rather it be to save, arrest, counsel, or protect.  Nevertheless; they are always prepared for the worse.


Why is PTSD so Common Among First Responders?


First responders are the ones familiar with situations such as:


·        the deceased infant whose mother simply got sick of hearing her cry


·        the guy hyped up on PCP who kicks out the back window of the squad car


·        the active shooter in the Target parking lot


·        the fatal accident leaving one child alive with no parents


Over time, exposure to such stress can take a toll on the mental health of these first responders. The memories often creep back up into their thoughts, even when everything seems fine on the outside. Talking about their day to loved ones isn’t usually on their top list of things to do. If you have a loved one who is a first responder, they might tell you about a bad call they had.  Though, they probably will not include the detail of terror that was involved and what it is doing to them.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may result from some of these situation, with symptoms including:


·        Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories


·        Emotional numbness


·        Extreme worry, guilt, anger or hopelessness


·        Avoidance of people, places or things that are reminders of the trauma


·        A loss of interest in things that once gave pleasure


·        Feeling anxious, on edge or jumpy, and easily angered


·        Sleep issues


·        Problems with alcohol or drugs


·        Suicidal thoughts


When a first responder experiences a traumatic event beyond the range of a typical human experience, they may feel threatened or have feelings of helplessness, fear, or loathing.  Although it can feel overwhelming, PTSD is treatable.


Healing from PTSD: The Necessary Process


It isn’t easy for a person who is supposed to be the hero to just let their guard down and open up about feelings. These individuals understand that trauma is part of their job and they don’t want to admit to others (or themselves) that they are having difficulty with the feelings that arise from doing their job. It may not be an easy process, but it is a necessary one.


According to a University of Phoenix survey from 2017, 85% of first responders have experienced symptoms related to mental health issues. Of those surveyed, 10% were diagnosed with PTSD.  Though, the problem goes beyond PTSD, especially when no treatment is sought. Approximately 1 in 4 police officers reported having thought about committing suicide at some point in their life. In 2017, an estimated 103 firefighters and 140 police officers took their own lives.


Certain factors have been found to aid the recovery of PTSD. These actions reinforce feelings of support, hope and sense of control.  Some of these include:


·        Peer and community support: Strong emotional connections in the community and a feeling of belonging can help prevent PTSD. Group discussions among peers who have experienced the same symptoms can help build a support group within the department.


·        Stress management and therapy: Positive coping strategies learned through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help first responders gain resilience against traumatic experiences and treat symptoms of trauma.


Some departments may be equipped with an onsite psychologist. If this is not the case, there are many treatment facilities around the country who have PTSD specialists.


Staying Strong After Healing: The Dreaded Question


First responders choose their profession for the same reason everyone else does. It is a career that makes them feel like they are making a difference or it simply makes them happy to do something they love! Though it is rare for a Real Estate Agent be asked about the details of their job at a dinner party. But for first responders, it never fails. It starts with “This is my friend, he’s a firefighter”.  It seems like an innocent introduction and the friend means no harm, of course. Though that introduction is always followed with the question; “What’s the worst call you’ve ever been on?” or “What’s the worst thing you’ve seen on the job?”


Rather you are the person asking or the first responder on the other end of the inquiry, these types of questions can cause damage to the hard mental work someone has done to heal from this event. “Worst days” will be more than the copier eating an original legal document or your co-workers leaving a disgusting mess in the breakroom. First responders are exposed to disturbing or traumatic events nearly every day during the course of their jobs. As a result, mental health issues are more common among first responders than individuals in most other professions.


It is a better tactic to ask a first responder about the funniest call they’ve been on, rather than the most traumatic one. That usually provides you with the better story anyway. If you are the firefighter or police officer, the next time someone asks you about your worst day on the job, don’t feel bad about telling them that you’ve seen a lot of worst days and you’d rather not talk about them.


Always Remember


While it’s both cliché and truth to say that police officers and firefighters loathe admitting weakness.  They’re used to being the ones that solve problems rather than admit that they have them. But accepting help or attending therapy should not be considered a weakness in this situation. It should be seen as high-level training!


Do emergency personnel not maintain their vehicles, equipment and weapons? Of course! While it is part of their job, they even maintain their firearms training, hand to hand combat skills, medical certifications and more. Yet fire and police stations leave the most important tool unattended: their mental health. Maintaining positive mental health is essential to the performance of these jobs.  Attending therapy or treatment shouldn’t be viewed as a flaw. It may save lives.



Bio-One is here to Help First, Business Second



When you request a service, our team focuses on accomplishing one goal: helping you. That’s why our professional technicians are on standby 24/7, every day of the year. We have the experience, training and licensing to get the job done efficiently, and can generally reach the scene within an hour. After we’ve made sure that you’re safe and the site does not pose a hazard to others, we’ll talk business. Because at Bio-One, we understand that compassion and expediency are requisites for helping you overcome a challenging situation. Our motto, “Help First, Business Second,” is a promise to you and an obligation for us. It’s indispensable to our aim of providing you with the best service the industry has to offer.