BY MIKE NOLTING
Emergency Medical Service workers need more mental health support as the ranks shrink and fewer trained professionals are taking more calls, according to a EMS veteran.
Bridgeport Director of Emergency Management Tim Curry said after years of the “suck it up and deal with it” culture changes need to be made for the next generation of EMS workers.
Curry wrote a piece titled, Suck it up Culture is Killing First Responders, where he reflects on his own struggle and those of his peers.
“The public has a perception that public servants are tougher than anybody else. They can handle anything that’s thrown at them and just keep on, keeping on,” Curry said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”
EMS is struggling with having enough staff both in West Virginia and around the country. Curry said it’s a profession that can deliver the happiest moments and the most tragic incidents all during the same shift or even minutes apart.
He said, “107 first responders died by suicide in 2021 and that’s more than died in the line of duty. So if that is not a wake up call to say we really need to start protecting the people that are protecting us then I don’t know what is.”
Curry rode in an ambulance serving the residents of Harrison County for more than 10 years. He said he realized he needed more help than “just time off” when he turned to alcohol to deal with years of trauma, one incident at a time.
“You can’t wade through human suffering daily and not be touched by it. It’s foolish to think that,” Curry said. “It’s as foolish as saying you can walk through water and not get wet.”
According to Curry, EMS workers need healthy distractions like hobbies and exercise to help cope, so they can be a community asset without sacrificing their well-being or family life.
“In the moment you do have to put out of your mind and deal with it to handle what needs to be handled,” Curry said. “People are looking to us on their worst days to fix things, so we have to be those fixers in the moment to be there and fix people.”
Curry said 24% of EMS workers report mental health issues and those are only the ones who admit it. EMS workers have higher divorce rates and substance abuse rates than the general population.
“A lot of health insurance plans do not cover outpatient therapy, but they cover in-patient therapy,” Curry said. “The only way you can get in-patient therapy is to go to the hospital and tell them you want to harm yourself or someone else, so people aren’t getting the help because it’s not there — it’s not available.”