Post-traumatic stress ‘not going away’

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Assistant Fire Chief Chip Terry served in Covington for almost three decades. (Photo used with permission from Katie Woodring Photography.)

 Pandemic bolsters need for training inspired by late fire chief 

COVINGTON, Ky. - Even aside from her own family’s personal tragedy, Jo Terry knows well the urgency, the prevalence, and the depth of post-traumatic stress for firefighters and other first responders.
 
In the weeks after she organized Covington’s first-ever seminar on PTS two years ago in honor of her late husband, Assistant Covington Fire Chief Chip Terry, the desperate pleas for help started coming in.
 
“I’ve had individuals with guns in their hands when they called me,” Jo Terry said. “I’m no clinician, but they reached out to me because they know I’ve been through it. We didn’t lose them, they’re safe now, but ... there are a lot of people struggling. This is not going away.”
 
Next week marks the third anniversary of Terry’s death after the well-known firefighter lost his struggle with PTS and took his own life.
 
Terry’s family created The Chip Terry Fund for First Responders and organized seminars the first two years to bring attention to the issue and help those who are struggling find and secure help.
 
This year, the focus will be the same, even if -- because of the pandemic -- the logistics are different.
 
As part of a “Stand Down for PTSD Awareness” organized by Covington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 38, Jo Terry will lead two sessions a day for three days - Tuesday through Thursday - for Covington firefighters. Members of outside fire, EMS, and police departments can make arrangements to attend virtually by emailing firechief@covingtonky.gov.  
 
The one-hour sessions will focus on the science of PTS, how to recognize it, the effects on family, and the resources available. It will also include information about online assessments operated by Terrace Metrics, the University of Cincinnati Stress Center, and the IAFF Center of Excellence.
 
“We decided that the subject was too important to abandon and elected to hold a Stand Down in honor of Chief Terry,” said Tyler Cherry, secretary/treasurer of Local #38, whose retired members will serve lunch.
 
If anything, Jo Terry said, COVID-19 has made things worse.
 
“In Covington, for the size of the department and the city, they see a lot of stuff,” she said. “And the stress that first responders live with every day as part of their jobs is compounded by other stresses like COVID, and the fear that they’re taking (the disease) home to their spouses and kids and parents. Plus the things they might normally do to relieve stress, like trips and get-togethers, people can’t do now.”
 
Terry said the Fund has been used to help nearly 20 firefighters in tangible ways access treatment since it was created. She’s taken phone calls, bought plane tickets, and physically escorted them to treatment.
 
Chief Mark Pierce, who knew Chip Terry since high school and worked with him for decades both as a firefighter and outside the department, said he welcomed the “Stand Down” and the training.
 
“The more we learn about mental health, the more we understand the need to take the stigma away,” Pierce said. “If you seek help, it’s not a sign of weakness.”
 
Over the course of a career, first responders see a lot of suffering and tragedy, from broken children to severely burned bodies to elderly people whose bodies lay undiscovered for weeks. Those images, the screams of pain from injured people, and the cries of anguish from grieving relatives, are difficult to erase, Pierce said.
 
The narrative is that firefighters and other first responders “can absorb anything, survive anything” with no problems and consequences, Pierce said. “But that’s just not true,” he said. “The years of doing this job can build up and weigh on you.”
 
Shortly after Terry’s death, the department created a Behavioral Health and Wellness Committee to elevate awareness and response.
 
To learn more about Chip Terry, the fund, post-traumatic stress, and PTS resources, click HERE. You can also donate to the 501(3)(c) at that link.
 
Oct. 16 fund-raiser
To help raise money for The Chip Terry Fund for First Responders, Revival Vintage Spirits & Bottle Shop will hold a Firefighter Flight Night event on Oct. 16.
 
To learn more about the event, click HERE.
 
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