When there’s a fire, crime, or disaster, we depend on first responders. Day or night, when the emergency lights start flashing, firemen, police officers and emergency medical personnel are at risk of experiencing stress from traumatic incidents that are a recurring part of their job.

“It’s always a stressful profession in the first response community,” said Gary Christman, Deputy Director of St. Louis City Disaster response, and board president of CISM, the Critical Incident Stress Management Team.

Since 1991, the Greater St. Louis Critical Incident Stress Management Team has provided support and education to first responders who sometimes struggle with the physical, emotional and behavioral strain of inherently stressful jobs.

“Helping them understand we can get through this,” said Christman. “It’s not that we have to deal with it on our own. The Critical Incident Stress Management Team is a volunteer team made of professionals from the mental health profession, firefighters, police officers, emergency medical. We do have clergy on our team as well.”

Emergency workers are at risk of experiencing stress from what psychologists refer to as traumatic incident. Such an incident could involve exposure to catastrophic or deadly events.

“We provide the education so we give people that knowledge of what to watch for, both in ourselves and in our partners, in our teams, and how to deal with that stress on a day-to-day basis,” said Christman.

Overland Police Chief Mike Laws is a CISM peer support member, with training to counsel first responders on how to control the built in pressure of their jobs and preserve their wellness.

“We see difficult things on a fairly regular basis. There are those incidents that are especially hard to deal with,” said Laws. “It may be an incident involving a child, it may be a line of duty death where a police officer is seriously injured or killed, it may be a suicide, it may be a mass casualty event.”

It’s believed that peer support members like Laws have an advantage because they fully understand the challenges of being a first responder.

”Give them better ways to cope with those situations. Help them understand that the reactions they’re having are normal reactions to a very abnormal incident,” said Laws.

For more information about CISM services, www.stlcism.org.