In the past few years South Carolina has lost several first responders to suicide. The term “first responder” is an umbrella term to include law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS. And since 2016 the state has been working to make sure first responders are able to receive the behavioral health help they need.
Governor Henry McMaster recently signed off on a bill that funds PTSD programs and insurance policies for first responders in the state to work through the darkest hours on the job.
PTSD is often used when referring to war veterans or men and women in the armed forces. But first responders across the country are also suffering from PTSD.
Patti Graham is the coordinator for the Firefighters Assistance and Support Team (F.A.S.T). The team provides peer support for first responders having trouble recovering from a “bad” call.
Graham explained, “We have learned that more first responders die by their own hand than they do in the line of duty.”
Captain Daniel Byrne with the Burton Fire District added, “We have a lot of high speed wrecks, a lot of shootings, stabbings.”
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,” continued Graham.
Organizations like the SC State Firefighters’ Association help departments walk through those tragedies.
Patti Graham outlined what the F.A.S.T team does when it’s called to assist.
“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 along side them and let them know what they’re experiencing is a normal reaciton.”
F.A.S.T is able to provide peer support to departments thanks to funding approved by Governor Henry McMaster each year. The money also helps financially. The SCSFA is able to implement an insurance policy to help first responders pay for additional help and resources.
Zorrina Harmon is the benefits director for SCSFA. Harmon explained the purpose of the insurance policy. “If we wanted to maximize those out of pocket expenses we did purchase an insurance policy that would do that.”
But for the first responders constantly responding to a “bad” call, the money invested in behavioral health helps the departments 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 Captain Byrne.
The programs funded by the $250,000 approved by the governor will help more than 44,000 first responders.