Why the Spring Can Be Challenging for First Responders
Emergency response is meaningful and impactful work. It not only protects public health and safety but helps preserve critical national infrastructure and functions. First responders can be subjected to hazards whether the emergency is man-made or natural. The exact nature of threats is different for firefighters, law enforcement, and medical services, but the personal impacts are quite similar.
Hazards encountered throughout routine work are unfortunately taxing on first responders physically, mentally, and emotionally. Emergencies are never positive affairs, and expose responders to a wide breadth of suffering.
The cost of this exposure can manifest as increased rates of behavioral health disorders such as depression, suicide ideation, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Factors That Increase Risk
Emergency service work requires work on the front line of disasters. One of the most significant factors that increase the risk of behavioral health issues is the tempo of work and poor access to resources available to help integrate work experiences.
This inability to properly process through traumatic experiences on the job is exacerbated by:
- Long shifts and on-call responsibilities that lead to erratic sleep schedules
- Lack of downtime after traumatic experiences
- Barriers to seeking help such as cost of treatment and stigma
- Poor training in volunteer responders and firefighters
While the nature of emergency response work can’t be changed, the good news is organizations can take steps to mitigate many of the risk factors.
How to Protect Behavioral Health
Protecting mental health in first responders in the face of adverse work conditions comes down to a few core components, the need to build resiliency before emergency events, responding in a practiced manner, and finally allowing time afterward to process events.
Let’s go over a few ways institutions can support employee and volunteer responders.
1. Bring It Back to Community
If you are having a rough year or your community is rapidly growing and putting additional strain on emergency services, it may be a good time to consider doing some community outreach. If your town or county has a spring fair, get involved there or host an open house at your community department on the weekend.
Outreach programs come with many benefits outside of just being a fun event. They allow you to connect with the public you serve and will enable you to provide education that might help prevent an emergency in the first place.
Some event ideas and education topics to implement during spring outreach are:
- Increase home safety by educating on or providing Smoke and CO2 detectors
- Demonstrate proper use of fire extinguishers
- Provide basic training for medical emergencies to do before emergency services arrive
- Tour a fire truck or EMS ambulance
Interactions with the public tend to be in negative circumstances; a community event gives you an opportunity to interact in a significantly more positive atmosphere, build connections, and increase mental resilience.
There is no greater time than spring to start something new and grow strong community bonds.
2. Prepare for the Risks You Can
Being well prepared for any scenario reduces the stress on anyone, especially those going into emergency situations where time is critical. Preparedness for events can be accomplished at both the individual and institutional levels.
You can increase Individual preparedness by providing comprehensive training. Personnel can take pride in having a high level of technical skill, and training gives first responders the ability to tackle emergencies safely and efficiently. A safe, efficient response is also more likely to have a better outcome, and everyone feels better on a job well done.
At an institutional level, having set protocols and plans for different types and levels of emergencies can reduce the level of anxiety of the entire team. Having a defined command structure and clear lines of communication supports the team's safety and efficiency. The goal is to reduce any guesswork and get as much information on emergency response as possible.
3. Post Response Care
Mental health can be a delicate subject. While the stigma of seeking treatment has lessened over the past few decades in general society, the culture of first responders can naturally shun those that admit the work is hard. It can be challenging to implement mental health measures after an emergency disaster response, but having the framework in place can help extend the working life of responders.
It will take the most time to implement but work towards having a framework to monitor responders for burnout or other behavioral changes that come with extreme stress and trauma. Getting responders access to therapy when needed is the best-case scenario. But implementing appropriate breaks during a response and in the days following will increase mental resilience.
A Unified Response
Our first responders are always on the front line of protecting the safety and well-being of the public. No one is an island, and ensuring their well-being should be a cooperative effort of individual responsibility, fellow coworkers, and supporting organizations.
StreetWise® understands that accurate, thorough planning and real-time communication are key to successful incident response. We provide cutting-edge technology solutions for preplanning, dispatch, and mobile communication to unify your response. Let us help your organization provide better outcomes to the community and first responders under your care.
Contact us to see what makes us different from other CAD solutions on the market. We provide free demos for prospective customers.