Training is the key for first responders

Southington’s deputy chief William Palmieri addresses a group of first responders at a recent training at Hawk’s Landing.
Southington’s deputy chief William Palmieri addresses a group of first responders at a recent training at Hawk’s Landing.

One hundred forty police officers, firefighters, emergency medical rescuers, mental health clinicians, and others gathered at the Hawk’s Landing Country Club in Southington on June 26 to attend an intensive day of first responder wellness training.

Officials said it was a timely event considering the recent loss of three police officers in the New York Police Department to suicide over a 10-day period and the findings of the Ruderman Foundation White Paper on mental health and suicide of first responders.

Presenters reported that 30 percent of first responders develop a behavioral health condition during their time of service, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sixty-nine percent of EMS professionals report “never have enough time to recover between traumatic events.”

Participants from 66 different agencies were in attendance, some traveling from as far as the Boston, Mass. Police Department, the State of New York Department of Corrections, and the Town of North Greenbush, New York.

Welcoming remarks were presented by Southington Deputy Chief of Police William Palmieri and Qigong mindfulness techniques were presented by Head to Heart owner Catherine Hansen.

“This day promoted awareness and strategies to tackle the effects of critical incidents, cumulative stress, and secondary trauma to all first responders from the 911 dispatchers who take the initial call to those police, fire, and EMS staff on scene who respond and handle the worse of the human experience,” said officials in a press release.

The day included presentations by Sgt. Kevin Bryant of the Harvard University Police Dept., who also serves as a police chaplain and Baptist minister; director of Baltimore, Md. City Police Department officer of the safety and wellness unit Vernon Herron; director of the Fire Department of New York and veteran of Sept. 11, 2001, Lt. Drew Kane; and master of social work and former Connecticut police officer Susan Graham.

“What made this training unique is that it is another positive step forward in promoting awareness and advocacy towards recognizing and addressing mental health, behavioral health, and the impact of trauma on those who protect and serve us every day in various first responder responsibilities,” said Chris McKee, board of directors member of the Honor Wellness Center and retired police captain. “This training was unique in that attendees representing all the various disciplines of first responders were all under one roof to learn about this critical issue.”

This training also included an update report on pending Connecticut legislation drafted to help the mental health benefits of first responders presented by East Hartford Police Department chief Scott Sansom and executive director of Believe 208 Trish Buchanan.

Believe 208 was founded after the death of Buchanan’s husband, East Hartford Police Officer Paul Buchanan who succumbed to his depression and died by suicide in 2013. Chief Sansom serves an active role in the Connecticut Police Chiefs association in both the legislative committee and the officer wellness committee.

“A special note of gratitude and appreciation is due to the SPD for their committed support and partnership with the host organizations of this wellness conference,” said McKee.