They rescue the injured, retrieve the fallen and hope that they can preserve the next life they’re tasked with saving.
First responders take care of others on a daily basis and sometimes forget to take care of themselves.
That’s why police officers, firefighters, paramedics, search and rescue volunteers, rangers and ski patrollers came together Thursday night for a rare presentation about how to handle trauma.
Hundreds of Teton County’s first responders packed the auditorium at the Center for the Arts to listen to Dr. Tania Glenn, who was hired to share her expertise about the most effective ways to handle high-stress calls and the psychological aftermath.
“You insert yourselves into the worst days of other people’s lives,” Glenn told the crowd. “You see the worst things people do to themselves and others.”
Glenn, a therapist from Austin, Texas, who specializes in helping veterans and first responders handle post-traumatic stress disorder, explained different levels of stress and why the body and mind react in certain ways.
“It’s never, never too late to get help,” Glenn said.
The National Park Foundation, the Teton County sheriff’s Office Auxiliary and the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation sponsored the event.
“You mean the world to this community,” Teton County Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Carr told his peers before introducing Glenn to the stage.
Some of Glenn’s goals with her presentations are for first responders to learn that their sometimes unpleasant reactions to tragic events are normal and that they should be supporting one another.
“It’s OK to not be OK with some of the things that they see,” Glenn told the News&Guide after the event. “I ask people to look at the culture of their department. The biggest thing is for them to look at their culture and redefine it so that they all understand and acknowledge that it’s OK to get help.”
Local responders said having a supportive team when you’re handling a tough situation is key.
“Search and Rescue does a really good job already with peer support,” said KC Bess, who’s been a volunteer with Teton County Search and Rescue for three years. “We just had a busy month, and there were a few intense calls. After some of those you get phone calls from people. That really helps to know you’re not dealing with this by yourself.”
Bess said the fact that sponsors were willing to bring Glenn to Teton County to share that message reinforces the supportive environment that he’s come to know with his search and rescue team.
“It’s obvious you need to take care of yourself physically,” he said, “but you have to be aware of what could happen if you don’t take care of yourself mentally after incidents and rescues.”
Bess and his team members have experienced trauma firsthand and often serve as one another’s therapists.
“The first time I was on an event where a person passed away after doing CPR, that stuck with me for awhile,” Bess said, “and there was about a week of replaying it and it’s good to hear that’s normal.”
Despite training, it’s often hard for first responders to know what to expect when they first start in emergency service.
“I didn’t know how I would react to some of that stuff going into it,” Bess said.
“You always question if it’s affecting you or not or if it’s normal,” he said. “That’s why it’s good to have a supportive group of peers.”