COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – In the past few years, the state has lost several first responders to suicide. First responder is an umbrella term to include law enforcement, firefighters, and ems.
Their day-to-day duties often expose them to some of the most horrific scenes.
Count on 2 took a closer look at money recently approved by Governor Henry McMaster to help first responders deal with behavioral health issues that stem from what they’ve seen.
The money approved by the governor will fund PTSD programs and insurance policies for first responders in the state to work through the darkest hours on the jobs.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is no longer a term reserved for war veterans or men and women in the armed forces.
“We have learned that more first responders die by their own hand than they do in the line of duty,” said Patti Graham, F.A.S.T. coordinator, SC State Firefighters’ Association.
But first responders across the country are also suffering from PTSD.
“We have a lot of high-speed wrecks, a lot of shootings, stabbings,” said Capt. Daniel Byrne, Burton Fire District.
Exposure to death on a daily basis takes its toll on those responding to the scene.
“If it’s a tragic accident or cases of abuses where children have been killed these are very painful for the first responders to see,” said Graham.
So, organizations like the SC State Firefighters Association help departments walk through those tragedies.
“We set a time to come in and spend some time with them. not that we can come in and fix it but that we can come alongside them and let them know what they’re experiencing is a normal reaction,” Graham explained.
The Firefighters Assistance and Support Team can provide peer support to departments in need thanks to funding approved by the governor each year.
The money also helps first responders financially seeking additional help.
“If we wanted to maximize those out of pocket expenses we did purchase an insurance policy that would do that,” said Zorrina Harmon, Benefits Director, SC State Firefighters’ Association.
But for those on the job constantly responding to a “bad call,” it’s about more than the funding, it’s about making it through those darkest hours to be able to respond again.
“My crew was first on scene involving two infants and an adult, so decompressing you’re talking to people that know you. .so they come out and you’re talking to people who have been there and understand,” said Capt. Byrne.
The money will fund programs for more than 44,000 first responders which includes law enforcement, ems, firefighters and dispatchers.
Originally, this proviso was passed in 2005 but only included firefighters. Since 2016, the money has included all first responders.