LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The Critical Incident Stress Management Team with University Medical Center EMS is reaching out to the region to help their colleagues deal with the emotional stress leading to an increasing number of suicides among first responders.
CISM Coordinator Les Littlefield said the program began this year as he noticed the negative effect the increasing number of high-stress calls were having on crews.
He tells KCBD NewsChannel 11 that on average a first responder commits suicide every 1.4 days.
"The statistics are just unacceptable," Littlefield said. "The old school mentality is if you talked about it, you were too weak to do this job. So, we kept it in for a long time. We have seen over long periods of time that it doesn't work. Since starting our team, we have pushed out a lot of awareness that we are here to talk to you."
With an almost constant call volume, EMS staff is unable to properly deal with emotions before moving on to the next call or to lives outside of work. The team reaches out to help first responders experiencing lack of sleep, bad dreams, depression and PTSD.
"We talk about it," Littlefield said. "Everything stays confidential between us and them. They get it all out. They get to vent everything from the call, get it out and off of their mind."
The certified team now consists of a coordinator, two team leaders and eight to 10 team members. A CISM team with Lubbock Fire & Rescue also helps with any requests for assistance or debriefing sessions. CISM personnel can be brought in immediately or soon after a stressful call or when an employee requests help, sometimes temporarily halting the use of a truck to care for the crew.
"Speaking about it, venting about it, getting it off your chest and your mind with someone you know and can relate to does wonders," Paramedic Jason Jones said. "That is what our team is trying to do, prevent mental health problems officially being diagnosed and blossoming into things that in the long run not be beneficial for anybody."
Jones said speaking to peers is much more productive as they know what their first responders go through. This includes first responders across the South Plains, many of whom are volunteers and part of a small staff. UMC's CISM program is open to other South Plains first responders who would like to be CISM certified or need their assistance.
"You get involved in this line of work because you want to help," Jones said. "You are born and raised in this community and you know it. You know the type of people that live here and you want to help them. You want to be involved in their lives. You're going to see these people when it is on the worst day of their life or the worst night of their life when something tragic has happened. You want to be there for those people. That is why you continue to do their job."
If you would like information about the UMC EMS CISM team call (806) 775-8725.