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First responders receive crisis counseling after stressful call

April 28, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The overcast, drizzling sky set a somber tone in the neighborhood behind the Edwards Block Apartments on Main Street Wednesday, where an early afternoon incident left residents and emergency personnel shaken for the remainder of the day.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., a 29-year-old female was taken from the scene by ambulance to Harrington Memorial Hospital, where she was then transported by LifeFlight helicopter to UMass Medical Center in Worcester to be treated for injuries sustained in what appeared to be an intentional fall from her third-story window at the rear of the Edwards Block.

Police Chief Daniel Charette said that, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the woman was still receiving treatment for "three broken limbs and very severe head trauma."

Emergency medical technicians, firefighters and police officers were on scene immediately, as the incident occurred adjacent to the Fire Department's Elm Street headquarters.

Elm and Chapin street entrances to the parking lot behind the Edwards Block were closed while officials quickly cleared the scene.

Soon after the victim was dispatched to UMass, first responders from both departments met with members of the local critical stress management team to review, and process, the preceding events to help those, who regularly bear witness to traumatic and disturbing events.

In an article published by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress — an organization that works closely with the National Center for Crisis Management — described post traumatic stress disorder as a leading occupational danger for emergency service workers.

"It can shake a person's very belief system to the core," the article reads. "It can produce overwhelming, if illogical, guilt feelings. It can lead to an 'I don't give a crap,' attitude. It can make a police officer question whether the job has any meaning or value. It can make someone so vigilant he becomes paranoid, unable to trust or let his guard down even when he's completely safe. It can lead to suicidal thoughts and in rare instance actual suicides. On the physiological side it can produce anxiety, irritability, depression, insomnia and a host of physical problems from headaches to digestive problems."

Once associated strictly with veterans of combat, PTSD, and prevention thereof, is more widely addressed in the civil arena now more than ever.

"When I first started, I don't think we were really well in tune to that," Charette said. "I think people are much more aware now."

Chief Richard Ciesla of the Southbridge Fire Department agrees.

"Twenty or 30 years ago when I got in, there was nothing in place, you dealt with it on your own with no assistance," Ciesla said.

"We do have a critical incident stress team that is called in for incidents like this and was called in to talk to all of our emergency responders," Ciesla said a few hours after the initial incident. "He came in and talked to all of us, including the police department, he talked to all the emergency responders."

"It affects all my guys, every one of us, even me," Ciesla continued. "We're human."

Charette said, just like with any other situations, different people handle incidents differently. Even though responders may not need assistance after every call, just having counseling services available, Charette said, is a comfort to emergency personnel.

"All people, it hits differently," Charette said. "There's been times when I've gone to things with other officers, and it doesn't effect them at all, and it really hits me; there's been times when things don't really effect me but it really hits them."

"The town has a program set up with employee assistance and we make that available," Charette continued. "I think just about everybody has spoken to somebody at one time or another, including myself."

"We do the best we can," the chief added. "We try and we offer all the that's available, but sometimes it's still going to hurt."

Deacon Richard Olson of the critical stress management team could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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