PTSD therapists making history to understand plight of first responders

More than 40 clinicians attend fire and rescue training session

Forty-five local clinicians attended the first search and rescue training session in Central Florida
to give therapists a better understanding of the perils first responders diagnosed with PTSD face in the field. 

The program, sponsored by Orange County Fire Department’s Safety & Wellness Division, involved
members of fire and rescue units from across the state, including Palm Beach County.

Jeremy Hurd, a chaplain with Palm Beach County Training and Safety Division, said the reaction from therapists who have taken the two-day training session has been “phenomenal.”

"Living it is different than talking about it,” Hurd said. “The first time they walk into this class, put the gear on and see that it’s not like the movies, it gives them that perspective and they have a connection with firefighters, you can’t even describe.”

The curriculum, originally developed by Palm Beach County’s Safety Division team, was held at the Valencia Fire Academy last month.

News 6 was the only TV news organization on location to cover the event, only the fifth training session of its kind in the state.

Marie Guma, vice president of business and program development for ELAN Recovery and Wellness, emerged from a smoke-filled building in full fire gear, convinced the training session gives therapists new insight into what challenges firefighters confront.

“As a clinician, asking all these questions that are common sense to a firefighter are eliminated," she said. "When we have a firefighter in front of us in therapy, we don’t have to ask silly questions.”

Sheek Lorael, a clinician with UCF Restores, told News 6 she feels more people need to experience the training.

“Even people that work in hospitals or community-based clinics," Lorael said. “You never know who may know a firefighter who may be impacted by PTSD.”

“We have hundreds of clinicians now who are more aware of what we do," Hurd said. “They’re trauma aware, first responder aware, so we’re making a difference for firefighters that we’ll never meet.”

In a two-minute search and rescue drill, clinicians are told one of the people trapped in the building didn’t survive, the very thing fire responders can face and internalize.

Antonio Demings of the Orange County Fire Department said the days of trying to keep the pain to themselves are over.

“We’re trying to put the machismo to the side, the bravado, all of the toughness to the side and get to the bottom of what’s causing mental health issues in fire fighters,” Deming said.

Recently approved state legislation (Senate Bill 376) states that “under certain circumstances, PTSD suffered by first responders is an occupational disease compensable by workers’ compensation, regardless of physical injury.”

News 6 was instrumental in bringing attention to the PTSD issue and legislation.

The law signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year goes into effect Oct. 1.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.