First Responders Need Help, Too: Crisis Hotline Caters To Emergency Workers | WBEZ
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First Responders Need Help, Too: Crisis Hotline Caters To Emergency Workers

The people who leap into action first during crises — police, firefighters and paramedics — have established hotlines in many places for fellow emergency workers who find that they need help, too. One of the latest is in Bucks County, Pa., where Frank Farry, a state representative as well as a volunteer firefighter, created that hotline.

Launched in January of this year, the Bucks County First Responder Peer Support is available 24/7 and is staffed by volunteers who are or were previously first responders.

Farry told NPR's Scott Simon that he was inspired to launch the hotline after two local first responders committed suicide less than a year apart. He talks about the importance of peer support for emergency workers, collaborating with other first responders and why people in emergency services often find it difficult to ask for help.

Interview Highlights

On why it was this important to set up a hotline for first responders

Oct. 1 of 2015, Bucks County suffered a firefighter EMT suicide of a young first responder named George Redner, who took his own life. And then a little less than a year later, Ken Hopkins took his own life. He was also a firefighter EMT. And along the way there's been several law enforcement suicides. And what we're finding is more and more first responders are having some mental health issues from the service they provide. And you know we need to let everybody know like, "It's OK to need to have a release, to need to be able to go talk to somebody, to be impacted by seeing some of these horrible things."

On if he's had his own rocky moments

Absolutely. You know, when you perform CPR on a 6-month-old and that save's not successful? We had a line of duty police officer death in my community where I was actually the commander of his rescue scene. He was trapped under a vehicle and I knew him personally and I knew his family. And that actually rocked our community to the core. So yeah ... absolutely. And I've watched, you know, fellow first responders go through some struggles too. So I can say it's real.

On the effects of the opioid epidemic

Yeah, and that's an evolving situation. You know, the degree of Narcan saves that we're having up here is obviously increasing the more readily available Narcan is to first responders. Earlier today, you know, the squad went out for an overdose and they got upgraded to a cardiac arrest assignment. It was not in my fire district but you know was something the first responders said to dedicate their time to today.

On if he's consulted with anyone outside of Bucks County and any lessons he learned

Well, actually yes. The hotline is actually run through one of our social service nonprofits here in Bucks called Lenape Foundation and they've done fantastic work. I've also found that a lot of us are trying to do the same things and we're on parallel paths and I'm hoping Bucks County ends up being a trial for something that can ultimately go statewide here in the Commonwealth.

As one person that administers the program said to me, "Somebody can call from Minnesota. We're going to take the call and we're going to find somebody to help them in Minnesota." So we're not keeping it exclusive to Bucks County. But it went live in January and I do know there were seven documented calls within the first three months of it being up.

On if there are still some people in emergency services who find it difficult to ask for help

Absolutely. We have to make it acceptable for people to be comfortable going to ask for help. We have to make sure they know where to go and then we have to make sure there's sufficient resources there that's capable of helping them get the help that they need.

And public awareness is also part of this because as I discussed this in public settings, non-first responder settings, you know the room ends up nodding, going, "Wow, we never really thought of this before." But it is real. I mean, the Render family, the Hopkins family; they'll tell you it's real because it is.

For those in need of help, the hotline numbers are:

Police call: 267-893-5200

For first responders: 267-893-5400

Radio producer Samantha Balaban and editor Ed McNulty contributed to this report.

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