PTSD and first responders


With all the news lately, we read that the nation’s first responders are under attack. It seems that every day we read about a policeman, fireman, medic, etc., being attacked, killed, or run over by a vehicle. The numbers of these incidents are alarming. More and more first responders are taking their own lives in alarming numbers.

As a retired police officer, I found that the stress of the day-to-day work for the public, was not what got to me the most. You expect the public’s criticism and pressure. That is part of the job. But, I find that the internal pressure from fellow officers and the administration can cause more pain than help. I had guns and knives pointed at me. I saved some lives and lost some lives, too. That was part of the job.

After all, the public has an opinion in what is happening. For the most part, they have no idea what is really going on. But what may get you in the end is how the people you work with, and your supervisors, can be your worst critics.

“Did you follow procedures?” “How could you have done it better?” “If it was me, I would have done it this other way.” I have been in some situations that the book does not cover.

You have to be somewhat open to fly by the seat of your pants. You cannot put every situation in writing and cover it in a rule book.

What got me was when some of your worst critics were never around when the stuff hit the fan. I am here to say “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” is real and comes from all walks of life! It is hard to say what triggers it.

Back in 1993, I was involved in an incident that the suspect had a gun pointed at me. I saw the cylinder of the revolver starting to turn.

I was able to grab the firearm and push it down. The man with the gun was sitting in his car. The door of the vehicle was open. I was struggling with him and the gun. The car was in reverse. The suspect hit the gas and turned into me. I flew across the parking lot and landed on my feet, breaking my right ankle. In the end, the suspect was picked up on Route 23 near the county line. I can, from time to time, still see the firearm, and the cylinder, moving. I have to say that I do not dwell on it. I was in control of the situation (somewhat).

I find that what troubles me the most are the five people I was not able to save. Their short lives were senseless losses. Today, I can still see their faces like it is still happening.

The stigma of tough guys never asking for help needs to be bridged. People who may have PTSD need help and understanding, not ridicule. The borders around needing help have to be crossed without the fear of losing your job. Others, that they work with, should not criticize them for asking for help.

I found that when I worked with Sheriff Lavery, if you worked a stressful raid, or got into a high stress situation, the officers involved would get together right after all was clear. They would meet at someone’s home and have drinks and pizza or some kind of snacks. It gave us time to bring the adrenaline level down. That helped so much.

However, after Sheriff Lavery retired, and the first responders were involved in a high level stressful situation, everyone just went home. That left the officer to his own adrenaline wind down. With no one around, who also had just gone through what happened, it left the officer’s adrenaline to build up inside him.

To those who may have PTSD, please get help! Taking your own life hurts more persons that just yourself. There needs to be bridges built between the “tough guy” image and the need to ask for help. The administration needs to make it clear that it is OK to ask for help.

You are not going to be taken off the line because you asked. Others in the workplace also need to understand it happens. It is also OK for others to ask for help. Please be safe and get the help you need!

By Loren Pool

Contributing columnist

Loren Pool is a retired Delaware County deputy sheriff.

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