COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
First responders can now make use of a new state law meant to help with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senate Bill 24 includes PTSD as an occupational disease when diagnosed in first responders and establishes benefits under workers' compensation. The bill states there is no physical injury required for a first responder to receive benefits.
President of Columbia Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1055, Zack Privette, said this mental help is overdue and necessary for first responders.
"This legislation is not only needed, it's critical to the longevity of their careers and to maintaining their ability to function as human beings," Privette said.
Gale Blomenkamp with the Boone County Fire Protection District said first responders often have to focus on the job first, and deal with the emotional aspect afterward.
"You've got to push it away, you've got to do the job first and foremost," Blomenkamp said.
He said when he first got into the business more than 30 years ago, PTSD wasn't something that was talked about. Now, Boone County Fire and Columbia Fire both have peer support groups and employee assistance programs available for responders to talk through what they've experienced.
"The veterans around here know those kind of events that are triggers for people. We know if they're a trigger for us, it's a trigger for somebody else," Blomenkamp said. "If it was a trigger for us 20 years ago, it's a trigger for them now, so we can talk to them about that and work through that with them."
He said every call they respond to could be a traumatic event for a first responder.
"Regardless of whether you're a five-year veteran, 30-year veteran or anything in between, anybody that does what we do has some level of PTSD," Blomenkamp said.
"I don't think there's a firefighter in the country that hasn't said there's been days where it's just a struggle to get out of bed, and I'm not immune from that," Privette said.
Data from the Institutes of Health shows more than 80% of first responders experience traumatic events on the job, and roughly 1-in-3 develop PTSD.
Cole County EMS Chief Eric Hoy said it's not only responding trauma, it's responding to trauma everyday.
"It's repetitive post-traumatic stress," Hoy said. "Our folks really never get to recover from one trauma before they're thrown right back into the next trauma."
Blomenkamp said this law is now just one more resource first responders can use to take care of their mental well being. He said the fact this legislation was passed shows appreciation for first responders and all the work they do.