Longboat offers help for first responders PTSD and stress

Editor & Publisher

Tragedy provokes a visceral and emotional response.  How those directly involved with the brutality of war, the trauma of car accidents and medical emergencies learn to live, absorb and get through these situations emotionally presents a challenge to both society and numerous professions. Additionally, culture has changed. The days of General Patten slapoing a soldier are long gone.

The issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), particularly hits home on Longboat Key with First Responders within the Fire and Police Departments. To this end, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, Deputy Fire Chief Sandi Drake and Firefighter Jason Berzowski initiated a program to help train and offer a modicum of relief for emergency personnel.

The University of Central Florida (UCF) has developed a program for First Responders started after the Pulse Night Club massacre.

Longboat Key contacted UCF and through a grant, three doctoral degree students trained three representatives from Longboat along with all of the other agencies in the county at the Sarasota Emergency Operations Center. The three Longboat representatives trained were Dezzi, Drake and Berzowski. They learned of the different types of PTSD, how to communicate with each other and employees after traumatic incidents and then they trained each and every employee in the police and fire department on what they learned.

“Not long ago, if you went to a traumatic scene, whether an accident or medical emergency, you were not supposed to show any weakness or talk about it,” said Dezzi.

Dezzi added that he and fellow staff members pursued the idea of PTSD training following an accident in which a pedestrian was dismembered last year.

The training is being assisted by Hunter, a therapy dog owned by Drake as well as other community resources.

Longboat Key resident and owner of Charles Nechtem Associates, Chuck Nechtem, has offered his company’s resources, which are Ph.D. and Master’s level psychologists and counselors, to be available to all Longboat Fire and Police personnel for counseling anytime, 24 hours per day.

Nechtem says, “I think in a community like this where first responders are so busy and work so hard, I want to make sure they get top-of-the-line service. I want to do something for the town and people here.”

The department members will be able to call either one of Nechtem’s associates or a counselor through the town’s employee assistance program at anytime for any issue they may have.

“Talking about any kind of distress always helps,” said Dezzi.

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