HARRISBURG – To consider a problem responsible for more deaths in the first responder community than are suffered in the line of duty, Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness (VAEP) Committee, held an informational hearing about post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI).
In addition to the stigma still associated with reaching out for help, the nature of the job also contributes to emotional burdens.
“To serve and save the public, first responders are required to place their own emotional reactions on hold. Very often, first responders keep their feelings bottled up or turned off because they are not ready to process what they have experienced,” said Sheila Roth, a licensed clinical social worker and a professor of social work at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Roth became a certified emergency medical technician so she could better relate to the people she tried to help.
Testifiers repeatedly expressed their refusal to speak to family or friends who don’t have the same experiences for fear of sharing horrors that will only infect the other person without alleviating any pain felt by the first.
The few who do reach out for help experience issues, as well. The workers’ compensation law requires that psychological issues be caused by “abnormal working conditions” if they’re to be covered. Of course, first responders live with work conditions that are more traumatic than most – making it more burdensome to prove a psychological injury.
“What makes us different from, say, the office worker? It goes back to the tough hero attitude. We are not, contrary to what some think, some sort of superhero. We are just men and women doing what needs to be done in others’ time of need,” explained Dave Schmidt, financial secretary for the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Despite that difficulty that would come with a change to workers’ compensation in the Commonwealth, Barrar and the committee are dedicated to addressing the issue.
“What would make you more suicidal than your inability to provide for your family knowing that you did all of the right things and the system and everyone in it turned their back on you? The emotional trauma is difficult enough, and loss of income is completely overwhelming,” Barrar said.
Testifiers also noted the importance of providing support not just for the first responders who are out in the field, but also the dispatchers who are taking the calls.
To view footage of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing, click here
Representative Stephen E. Barrar
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Alison Evans