When community's first-responders feel great burden, volunteer specialists help lighten the load
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Mar 16, 2013 | 4929 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ted Embry is a volunteer team leader with the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home who handles counseling for first responders after a crisis. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Ted Embry is a volunteer team leader with the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home who handles counseling for first responders after a crisis. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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For a decade, a group of volunteers has been quietly working in the community, serving those who keep residents safe.

The Northeast Alabama Crisis Response Team was formed 10 years ago to help first-responders deal with trauma they encounter in the line of duty.

“Every community has traumatic events; no community is immune to them,” said Ted Embry, team leader and founding member of the 30-member team made up of mental health professionals and first-responders. His regular job is as area director for Alabama Baptist Children’s Home & Family Ministries, based in Oxford.

Embry said the response team is peer-driven, meaning a mental health professional and a police officer will try to team up to respond to a police department in need of its services, or a firefighter would respond to a fire department, and so on.

“We use up public safety people in a really shameful way,” Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said, listing situations such as domestic violence incidents, the aftermath of suicides, physical and sexual abuse of children and car wrecks that seriously injure or kill people — all of which first-responders may have to cope with as part of a day at work. “At least Ted Embry and his people are there to help us,” he said.

Amerson said the traditional viewpoint of public safety people “is that we’re strong and we don’t have any problems with our feelings, and the television shows portray you deal with a shooting call and you’re back at work the next day — nothing to it. The reality is far from it.”

When that reality hits home and first-responders are affected by a traumatic incident, said Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson, often they’d rather talk to a colleague from another department.

“Some folks just don’t want to cry in front of their own co-workers,” he said. “If you get upset at work, the first thing you want to do is run to the bathroom, right?”

And when first responders seek out someone to talk to, Embry said, they can expect strict confidentiality.

“That is paramount for us,” Embry said. “We quietly go in and do our work with high value for the work of our responders — that they’ve placed their lives on the line for our community.”

Embry said the team is very selective in recruiting volunteers. “We want a very small, capable team who can respond quickly, within a matter of hours if need be,” he said.

Embry and his fellow team members recognize there is little funding available for services such as theirs, so the team looks to support local administrations and human resources departments.

“We want to augment that and facilitate the employees’ and responders’ and volunteers’ return to duty at their pre-incident level of functioning,” he said. This process can take days for some. For others, it can take weeks, months, even years to work through the trauma they’ve experienced.

The team works off models from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, which allows for pre-incident training, response to large-scale disasters, defusing, debriefing, and one-on-one as well as group counseling.

Embry said that in the midst of its work, members must remember to take care of one another as well.

“We have a protocol for our team members so they don’t become victim to the same trauma they are responding to: debriefing the debriefer.”

Jim Wilson, chaplain at Regional Medical Center who worked with Embry to plan and form the team, praised Embry’s ability and commitment as leader of the volunteer network.

“He can assess a situation, recognize a need, and respond, and he’s willing to do that any time, day or night.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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