One positive outcome of the threats we have faced over the last 5+ years is a deeper and more genuine appreciation for the work performed by first responders. We can’t possibly know what their daily lives look like, but it is well beyond what anyone other than a combat veteran could imagine. We seem to think trauma can be treated with some group therapy , etc. After all, PTSD is now a common acronym to everyone. We may not know much about the services available but believe that they must be effective. That is until we read the newspaper. Kevin Burke, the much-loved police chief of Healdsburg took his own life at the age of 55 just months after retiring. In the wake of the events that took place on Jan. 6th, four Capitol Police officers committed suicide. These are disturbing tragedies and are hard to process. There is a sense of shared guilt; what could have been done that wasn’t?
The answers to this question became the subject of a powerful presentation by a recent VOM Rotary speaker, Susan Farren. Susan made it all very personal by sharing her own story. She is a 31 year veteran paramedic, EMT, supervisor, operations manager in Oakland and Santa Rosa. As she moved more into peer counseling, clinical management, certain things were revealed and confirmed by actual data and it became clear that we are not doing enough to “help those who save others, help themselves”. The average life span of a first responder can be up to 20 years less than the national average. Seventy percent of all marriages end in divorce. Depression, isolation, anger and STRESS are unchecked. Susan hit her own low as a divorced mother of five who was battling cancer and whose job exposed her to human suffering on another level. You cannot unsee what you have witnessed, and the sights are unimaginable.
She eventually felt ready to tackle the issue of PTSD with an emphasis on the POST aspect. Why wait to treat these professionals after the fact, after they have burned out and are left with painful images? The expectation to separate yourself from normal human emotions and do your job couldn’t be more stressful.
Her years of work led her to develop and launch an organization called First Responders Resiliency Inc. The goal is to ‘put PTSD out of business’. In essence, FRRI is a comprehensive wellness program for first responders. It is multi-pronged and includes; trauma therapy, addiction/recovery support, physical and mindfulness based programs with an emphasis on emotional and physical support. Managing relationships, dealing with self-destructive behaviors, stress disabilities are just some of the aspects involved. What she said made total sense and her passion made believers of us all. Her job won’t be finished until she and her staff are able to build (in Cotati) the first center of its’ kind for the care of first responders. The Resiliency Center is in its’ first