How first responders deal with trauma after incidents

The job of a first responder comes with a lot of stress, but there is a group to help.

No matter how long they’ve been a first responder some calls are worse than others.

The Critical Incident Stress Management Team is there to help first responders get through that tough time though.

“I still today remember my first fatal fire,” La Crosse Fire Department Chief Gregg Cleveland said.

Even after around 30 years as a firefighter there are some calls that stand out in Chief Cleveland’s mind.

“I know that if these issues are not dealt with appropriately they can have devastating affects on individuals and their families,” Cleveland said.

To help first responders deal with the day-to-day stress and traumatic incidents they see a special group of volunteers, who are first responders themselves, answer the call both day and night to help take care of their own.

“It’s really talking about, ‘What were your first reactions? How are you coping with it now? What kinds of signs and symptoms are you having from stress?’ Then we offer them some suggestions on how to deal with the stress,” CISM team member Karla Eppler said.

Eppler said after a more traumatic accident the CISM team is called in to talk.

“They do a tough job and they need to have somebody to talk to after some of these really tough calls,” Eppler said.

And first responders say talking really helps.

“You’re always going to remember this event, but we’re telling you how to file it, we’re helping you file it in the brain properly so it’s stored neatly and it’s not just going to come barging out at some time,” Field Training Officer for Tri-State Ambulance Eric Ellis said.

“Basically our philosophy is if we get a call from a first responder agency or an ambulance, fire, police, we will do everything we can to get there,” Eppler said.

The CISM is an organization around the world devoted to helping first responders. Locally, the team covers the entire Coulee Region with members from all over the area. It is made up of first responders like police officers, firefighters, EMTs, pastors and social workers.

Members of the CISM are trained on talking with first responders. They also meet a few times a month to learn new techniques and role play to maintain their skills.