Saturday, March 23, 2019


WHAT KILLS FIRST RESPONDERS: Efforts underway to combat deadly stress of emergency work

Idaho State Journal
John O'Connor
March 23, 2019

They convinced Hale, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, to seek treatment and Moldenhauer personally drove him to a Veterans Administration therapy and rehabilitation program in Salt Lake City. Hale later underwent additional mental health treatment at an International Association of Firefighters-affiliated rehabilitation center for emergency workers in Baltimore.
Pocatello Fire Department Capt. Andy Moldenhauer, pictured, recently received an award from the American Red Cross for helping paramedic Dustin Hale, who was suicidal, get help for his severe post-traumatic stress injury. Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
Dustin Hale sought to cope with the anguish he routinely encountered as a Pocatello Fire Department paramedic by mentally absorbing victims' pain and cramming it into his own psyche.

"Some of us, like myself, we take a lot of the pain and what the families and patients are feeling and try to take it away from them by taking it on ourselves," Hale explained.

After several years of treating trauma, Hale's inner turmoil boiled over, culminating last fall with him holding a gun to his own head. It's a story he's embarrassed to tell but shares publicly, hoping to convince first responders to be open about the extreme stress they experience and to seek help when needed.

It's a timely message. Four other members of the Pocatello Fire Department have sought help via a post-traumatic stress injury, or PTSI, rehabilitation program during the past year and a half, according to their local union leader. A cross section of department members also plan to take peer support training offered through their international union, during which they'll learn to identify colleagues with PTSI and take appropriate steps to help them.

Snake River Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 plans to bring in a renowned speaker on PTSI at 6 p.m. July 15 at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center, 870 S. Fisher Ave. in Blackfoot.

The state has also taken recent action to address the problem of emergency service workers experiencing PTSI, passing a law on March 13 extending workers' compensation to cover the mental health condition for law enforcement officers, 911 dispatchers, firefighters and paramedics.

"There's no one who does the job that (stress) doesn't affect," Hale said. "Without the proper outlet and the proper care as far as mental health goes, sometimes that can turn into an actual injury. That's where PTSI comes in."
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