911, what's your emergency? The emotional toll behind the toll-free call


Columbia, S.C. (WACH) - In Richland County, the 9-1-1 call center receives more than 2,900 calls a day. But what happens after the call?

First Responders are defined as trained professionals who are among the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency.

We spoke with an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Firefighter, and a licensed psychotherapist to get their take on the emotional effects of the dangers they face day to day.

Amiel Smith is an Emergency Medical Technician for Kershaw County. Smith has more than 30 years of experience in First Responder careers.

It has become more of a calling because if I look back over things I have done I have always been in a helps kind of career. Whether it's life guarding, or whether it's a firefighter, or something helping someone else when they're in an emergency situation. They normally call us when they can't handle the situation and I am used to responding to something like that.

Smith says there are some parts of his career that are unforgettable.

I remember everything, Sometimes I can ride by and say I remember going on a call here. I've gone to a fire and I can remember very vividly all the scenes. Although you talk about them. Although you try to get them out - they still stick with you. It's almost like post traumatic stress syndrome. You always have it.

According to psychotherapist Dr. Markesha Miller, First Responders have an elevated risk of suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), and substance abuse.

First Responders have a 41 percent higher increase than the general population of a suicide risk. They're also more susceptible to substance abuse. Because you got to think of the coping - how are these individuals coping with this day in and day out stress. But not just the stress but the effects of it. How are they taking this home with them? How are they remembering that tragic accident that took the lives of a family and now they have to go home and operate within their own family. What are the coping pieces of that?

For many First Responders, the stress goes beyond the job.

Captain Lorenzo Spell is a firefighter with the Columbia Fire Department. He is married and has two young children. He has been fighting fires for almost 20 years.

Being married, the stress on the marriage, and being away from your children. Not being able to attend every soccer game, every basketball game. And then actually on the floor types of stresses. I mean we see terrible things. When we go out the door it's always something bad.

From seeing tragic events daily to constantly risking their lives to save others - the emotional toll on First Responders is heavy, but Spell and Smith say these risks are worth the rewards.

Next time there is an emergency, take a few extra moments to remember the emotional toll behind that toll-free call.

"I think a lot of times it's a thankless job. And I think a lot of times we're under appreciated. But just imagine taking us away. Take the fire department away. Take the police away. And Take the ambulance away. How would you handle that?

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