Helping first responders

NILES – In light of recent tragedies, a local agency is focusing on the mental health of first responders, people who must remain calm and take action in life-or-death situations.

April Caraway, executive director for the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, is leading an effort to train teams of public safety officials like nurses, police, firefighters and EMS so they may offer stress debriefings to peers with the help of mental health professionals.

“For decades, there has really been no concern for the mental health of public safety providers,” said John L. Popadak, president / chief paramedic for ACTION Ambulance. “Public safety is a very closed group of people. Police officers talk to police officers, firefighters talk to firefighters, EMS talk to EMS. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood. (They) all have their own circles,” he said.

“Peers are more likely to take the help from peers rather than mental health professionals. So we want to do it together,” Caraway said.

The second part of a two-day session was held Friday at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center in Niles. About 35 volunteers from communities like Warren, Niles, Cortland, McDonald, Johnston, Leavittsburg and Canfield, took part in the event funded by the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

Caraway said after the training is concluded, teams will be able to offer services to area public safety providers.

Police officers are trained to shoot, firefighters are trained to battle flames and EMS are trained to heal people, but none of that training prepares them mentally for how to deal with what they have seen afterwards, said Popadak, who has worked as an EMS for 39 years, a sheriff’s deputy for 10 years and a firefighter for 11 years.

“Basically, we’re never taught to deal with those emotions for everything we see. We just push them down and push them down … sometimes they come bubbling back up. In EMS, we call it paramedic burnout,” he said.