First Responders Can Face Traumatic Stress After Fatal Wrecks

By: Matt Howerton Email
By: Matt Howerton Email
Fatal wrecks can cause psychological stress for DPS troopers and firefighters who respond to the accidents.

(Photo by Matt Howerton)

BELLMEAD (November 21, 2012)-Thousands traveled through Central Texas Wednesday, as many made their way home for Thanksgiving.

Drivers took precautions because of the large number of fatal car crashes that have plagued Interstate 35 in the last month.

Those deadly crashes have consequences not only for victims and families, but also for first responders.

"Body parts, children that are deceased, I mean we've all seen it and it's horrifying," Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson said.

State troopers, paramedics and firefighters see some of the most gruesome car wrecks in Central Texas.

"It's the worst part of our job," Wilson said.

"I mean, going and knocking on someone's door and telling them a loved one was killed in a car one wants to do that."

Many are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is most commonly associated with troops returning from war.

But here at home, many state troopers and volunteer firemen assisting in deadly wrecks can suffer from what’s called critical incident stress, which is similar to PTSD, but typically lasts for only about four weeks.

Wilson says after a career on the highway, death can wear on you.

"I've been doing this for 20 years and if I witness a bad fatal wreck, I can close my eyes and see it," Wilson said.

State troopers have counseling readily available if they need it, but some firefighters may not know where to turn when they experience traumatic stress stemming from their job.

"There's a lot of volunteer firemen that don't know help is out there for them," Chalk Bluff Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Meadors said.

Meadors says talking with his firefighters about the deadly situations they see is a crucial process.

"You can't bottle it in. If you bottle it in, then it will affect you for years and years," Meadors said.

Both Wilson and Meadors both have jobs that aren't pretty.

But they take pride just knowing the community is safe.

"I can sleep easy knowing that there are people like us out there trying to keep everyone around us safe," Wilson said.

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