WNYT.com

REST helps first responders deal with traumatic experiences

Posted at: 12/30/2012 8:00 AM
By: Cadence Acquaviva

First responders risk their lives to save others everyday. Sometimes the images of tragedies, like the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre and the firefighters killed in Webster, can linger in their minds. As Dan Bazile reports, that's when the Reduce Emergency Stress Team gets call.

They rushed in as shots rang out at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Then, they were struck with grief in the middle of the carnage of 20 children and 6 adults. No matter how well they were trained, nothing could have prepared those first responders for this type of trauma.

“The top two are death of children or serious injury to children and death of a co-worker,” Johanna Flanigan, Reduce Emergency Stress Team coordinator.

That death of a coworker happened in the Rochester suburb of Webster. Two volunteer firefighters were fatally shot by William Spengler early Monday morning, when they arrived at a fire Spengler had set.

“You don't really think about your safety when you're going on these calls, that's what's so tragic about the Webster call. Is that it could have been any fireman,” Flanigan.

Johanna Flanigan is the coordinator for the Reduce Emergency Stress Team, or REST, in the Capital Region. She says it's been a stressful month for first responders, compounded by the time of year - the holidays.

“Then compound that with the number of victims, especially in Sandy Hook. Terrible tragedy,” Flanigan.

REST started in the late 80's to help first responders deal with those traumatic experiences. It's a volunteer group made up of mental health professionals and peer supporters.

Flanigan says there are teams all over the country including western New York and Connecticut. They get emergency workers to talk to others with similar experiences, cry, scream and get angry if necessary.

“People need to be able to talk about it. People need to be able to hug their kids when they go home and stay close to their family,” Flanigan.

Flanigan says part of the healing process is the support from across the country, and she says most of them want to go back to work as soon as possible.

“Many people find getting back into the saddle, doing it again, helps them heal. Helps them get back into the routine. Routines are very important for all these folks,” Flanigan.