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Seminar on traumatic stress honors former chief

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Assistant Fire Chief Chip Terry served in Covington for almost three decades. (Photo courtesy of Katie Woodring Photography.)

COVINGTON, Ky. - When Assistant Chief Chip Terry retired in 2012 after 26 years with the Covington Fire Department, he addressed City leaders in a speech that recapped his career and detailed advances in the department’s efforts to protect the citizens of Covington. 

Suddenly, his remarks turned personal.
 
Most people don’t realize the horrific and haunting tragedies that firefighters see, Terry said. Nor do they comprehend the psychological impact.
 
“People don’t see at 3 in the morning when a young lieutenant has to put two toddlers and their grandmother in a body bag (or) a 16-year-old boy hangs himself with an electrical cord,” Terry told the City Commission. “How do you close your eyes at night after you make that run? I’ve seen people shoot themselves in the head. I’ve seen children beaten and burned.”
 
“...Today I can lay down in bed and close my eyes and still see the faces of those toddlers.”
 
In September 2017, family and friends say, Terry’s struggle with post-traumatic stress overwhelmed him to the point that he took his life.
 
This fall, on the anniversary of his death, an education seminar on PTS organized by Terry’s family will honor his memory and seek to protect fellow first responders who are struggling to come to terms with their own experiences.
 
Registration is open for “Trauma and its Effect on First Responders: Protecting Those Who Protect Us,” which will be held Sept. 14 in Covington. The one-day seminar will feature national experts on trauma and behavioral health and the author of a book that will be distributed to attendees.
 
This Friday, a fund-raiser called Chip Terry’s 911 Pub Crawl is being held in Covington to raise money to offset the cost of the seminar.
 
The seminar, which costs $25 to attend, is open to anyone who wants to learn about PTS or suffers from it, but it is focused on local first responders, said Jo Terry, Chip Terry’s wife. The seminar also might lead to other educational efforts down the road, although she doesn’t have set plans.
 
“Post-traumatic stress is a problem across the board,” Jo Terry said. “My intent was a one-time deal, but I have been encouraged by so many people to keep this going. Chip would be so proud.”
Current Covington Fire Chief Mark Pierce said he already has pre-ordered 15 tickets for himself and fellow firefighters because he thinks it’s such an important issue and the seminar offers a lot for the low price.
 
“The more we see PTS cases like Chip’s, the more it comes to light,” Pierce said. “It’s the nature of the business we’re in. ... After dealing with the things we deal with, you torture yourself with second-guessing.”
 
Pierce said he knew Terry since high school and worked with him for decades both as a firefighter and outside the department.
 
“Chip was a firefighter’s firefighter,” Pierce said. “No matter how high up in the rank structure he rose, he never forgot where he came from. He was respected by everybody from chiefs to the rank and file.”
 
Covington’s ongoing response
 
Shortly after Terry’s death, Covington created a Behavioral Health and Wellness Committee that began meeting regularly - every two weeks in the beginning - to focus on PTS, said Misty Haas, business analyst for the CFD.
 
The committee has brought together medical professionals, chaplains, retirees, family members, current firefighters, and fire administrators to boost awareness of post-traumatic stress, make it OK to talk about, call attention to resources, and reduce obstacles to accessing those resources, she said.
 
“Chip’s death was a catalyst, but we have other members who are struggling and dealing with their own issues in very unhealthy ways: alcoholism, apathy, thoughts or plans of suicide, etc.,” Haas said. “Unfortunately our biggest challenge is the culture: In fire-fighting as with the military, it has never been acceptable to show weakness. Promoting cultural change that allows for free and honest discussion was a must.”
 
Haas said some neighboring fire departments have talked with Covington about creating a regional group focused on PTS.
 
“We want to face this head-on through education and treatment opportunities for all those affected,” she said.
 
The seminar is part of that effort.
 
The seminar
 
The purpose of the seminar, according to its brochure, is to identify the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress injuries, introduce evidence-based treatments, and identify providers who treat PTS injuries, especially for first responders.
 
Among the speakers: 
  • Dr. Kate Chard, director of Trauma Recovery Center, Cincinnati VA; and director of the University of Cincinnati Stress Center.
  • Dr. Abby Morris, medical director,International Association of Fire Fighters Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery.
  • Myrrhanda Jones, community outreach director, IAFF Center for Excellence.
  • Retired La Mesa Police Captain Dan Willis, author of Bulletproof Spirit: The First Responder’s Essential Resource for Protecting and Healing Mind and Heart. 
To sign up for the seminar or to learn more information about it and Terry himself, or to donate to The Chip Terry Fund, whose 501(c) (3) tax-exempt status is pending with the IRS, click HERE.
 
The fund-raiser will begin at Braxton Brewing Co. at 5 p.m. and end at Smoke Justis, with stops at The Hannaford and Octave. Cost is $15 (pre-registered) or $20 at the door. For info or to register, click HERE.
 
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