First responders & PTSD: Stressed into silence
One of the biggest dangers our first responders face today is Post Traumatic Stress.
Author: Brooke Hasch, Rob Harris
Published: 2:01 PM CST December 10, 2018
Updated: 1:29 PM CST February 16, 2019
HEALTH 11 Articles

Our first responders answer the calls on our worst days. Over time, their exposure to the stresses of the job and traumatic events can take a toll on their mental health. But few will openly talk about it. There's a stigma that comes with this discussion and we're trying to break it.

One of the biggest dangers our first responders face today is Post Traumatic Stress, more often referred to as PTSD.

First responders are often ignored and under-appreciated and for many who struggle - they struggle in silence. They'll tell you there is a fear that asking for help is a sign of 'weakness.'

It's not.

Join us as we investigate and attempt to break that stigma. We look to uncover institutional problems and show innovative solutions to help those suffering from PTSD.

A bill that would provide workers' compensation benefits for first responders who are suffering from PTSD is currently being debated in Kentucky. If you would like to call your local legislators and ask them to support this bill - and our first responders - you can do so here


First responders & PTSD: Stressed into silence

Chapter 1

What is PTSD?

Facts and information about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.

Women are more likely to be affected than men.

Rape is the most likely trigger of PTSD: 65% of men and 45.9% of women who are raped will develop PTSD.

Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.

Click here to learn more about PTSD.

Click here to learn the symptoms of PTSD.

Chapter 2

Firefighter battling PTSD breaks his silence

"This is the story about my worst run."

Our first responders see us in our worst moments, and those moments can haunt them forever through post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. There is a stigma surrounding mental health and it causes millions of men and women to suffer in silence.

Sergeant Justin Ames from the Jeffersonville Fire Department is ready to break his silence.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 3

When the worst calls hit home

PTSD and 911 dispatchers

First responders are handed the worst of what humanity has to offer on a daily basis. Over time, their exposure to these stresses can take a toll on their mental health. But few will openly talk about it.

"No one ever calls us when they're having a good day," Chris Presley, a MetroSafe supervisor, in Louisville.

Among first responders are 911 call takers and dispatchers, who answer hundreds of calls every day.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 4

When PTSD is ignored

Firefighter's widow speaks out

It's a chapter of Jo Terry's life she tries to keep closed, but the memories of her late husband, Chip, carry open wounds.

She had no idea the burdens he carried during his 26 years with the Covington Fire Department, working his way up to assistant chief.

Chip retired in 2012. In his speech, he revealed the demons he'd been living with for years.

It was a chilling tale of what life is like as a first responder and yet Terry admits, most who heard Chip's speech believed it was just part of the job.

In 2017, he took his own life.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 5

Why first responders aren't getting help

The stigma surrounding PTSD

The WHAS11 team has spoken to dozens of first responders over the past few weeks on the important topic of PTSD. They all have said the exact same thing: there is a stigma that keeps them from getting much-needed help.

“In this profession, you’re seen as somebody who’s supposed to have personal strength,” said Chris Presley, a supervisor of 911 dispatch at Metrosafe in Louisville. “You don’t want to be seen as weak, and can’t handle the stress of the situation, so a lot of people don’t speak up.”

“They call it a stigma for a reason: they’re tough to shake,” said Joe Hurt, the International Association of Firefighters chapter president in Jeffersonville, IN. “Everyone’s macho in the line of the work of public safety.”

Click here to read the rest of this story.

Chapter 6

What does #EndTheStigma mean?

Why we're talking about PTSD on social media

On December 19, you may see the hashtag #EndTheStigma on our social media platforms.

There is a stigma surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress. We want to put an end to it.

This problem is painfully evident in our first responders. Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, 911 dispatchers – they take pride in keeping cool during stressful situations. Their bravery is what they are often praised for.

But they’re still human. The unimaginable horrors they see on a daily basis affect them.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 7

The push to recognize PTSD as a job-related injury

Making sure our first responders can get the help they need

There is currently a divide between laws in Kentucky and Indiana, that protect these men and women when the job becomes too much to handle on their own. While there are some protections and benefits for our heroes, many still fall through the cracks and suffer in silence.

Mental injuries like PTSD aren't recognized in Kentucky, unless you were physically hurt. So, many first responders don't get the time off they need.

"If you and I are partners and we walk into a house and you witness me get my head blown off, and you get PTSD, tough on you. Because you don't have a physical injury," Ofc. Lamont Washington, with Louisville Metro Police Department said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 8

A firefighter's story of PTSD and suicide

"It physically hurt."

"I'm not sure it's a topic a lot of people talk about. I think it's a topic we should be talking about it," Skaggs said. "Experiencing what we experienced as a family, as a department, it's a must."

In May of 2009, his life changed forever.

"My father committed suicide. He was still an active member here, off duty that day, had all his guns out. He got on his Harley Davidson and he rode away. A few hours later, I got a phone call from a detective," Skaggs said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 9

Therapy dog hopes to provide comfort

Canines for Christ come to Louisville

911 dispatchers got a visit from a special canine, named Molly, on Jan. 3. The group Molly came with was hoping to provide some comfort to those who responded to a call on Christmas Eve that killed LMPD Deidre Mengedoht.

The group Canines for Christ, based in Nashville, travels with therapy dogs who visit with first responders across the region. 

Molly has made more than 3,500 visits to first responders. She spent the morning at MetroSafe with dispatchers and call-takers who've had a hard time in recent weeks after the death of Mengedoht.

Chapter 10

Proposed bill aims to expand workers' comp for first responders

Lawmakers hope to see change in 2019 legislative session

A bill filed in the Kentucky legislature for the 2019 session aims to expand current workers compensations protections for first responders, including those suffering from PTSD. Currently, first responders only qualify for benefits if they are physically injured on the job.

BR 140 was pre-filed ahead of the legislative session, sponsored by Representative Joni Jenkins (D) of Shively and Representative McKenzie Cantrell (D) of Louisville. The bill, if passed, would alter current law to include “psychological injuries” as being recognized for certain state employees, including first responders.  

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 11

How to get help

Resources for first responders

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Call 1-800-273-8255 (Available 24 hours every day)

KY suicide hotlines

IN suicide hotlines

Veterans Crisis Line

1-800-273-8255, press 1

Send a text to 838255

For more resources and organizations, click here


Be sure to watch our Battle After the Blaze coverage where we looked into firefighters across Kentuckiana that were facing a health threat that surfaced years after fighting fires and saving lives.