Posted by: Michael Byrne, Federal Coordinating Officer
As a former New York City firefighter, I’m no stranger to trauma. First responders who have witnessed devastation sometimes can’t get the upsetting images out of their mind. Or sometimes they hear cries for help weeks later. One fire response at a social club in the Bronx more than 20 years ago still stays with me. The fire wasn’t huge, and was contained quickly, but when firefighters went up to the second floor, they found several people had died from smoke inhalation. We were just sick – here they had done everything right and still couldn’t save their lives.
A lot of us were shaken up after that. But back then, most of us at the fire house would have rather had a root canal than talk to a counselor about our feelings.
Unfortunately, firefighters are not the only ones who think that way, and no one is immune to trauma and stress. Studies show that after a disaster, survivors and emergency responders are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (from epidemiologic reviews). Symptoms can include flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, survival guilt, extreme exhaustion and anxiety.
Five weeks after the devastating tornadoes in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and FEMA have partnered to activate Project Rebound, a program that provides crisis counselors to community outreach and education services groups. Teams of these counselors are on the ground to help residents and emergency responders, free of charge, in areas affected by the April tornadoes.
So far, the department has hired 77 Project Rebound crisis counselors for 36 counties participating in the program. Project Rebound crisis counselors will be working with all social services agencies in their community as they reach out to both disaster survivors and emergency responders dealing with the stresses that come with recovering after a disaster.
And because mental health experts say elderly and children are also among those at risk for traumatic stress, Project Rebound is making a special effort to reach out to these survivors as well.
Needing mental health resources after a disaster is something I don’t have to be reminded of, but don’t want others to forget. For more information on Project Rebound, or if you’re a disaster survivor or emergency responder in Alabama, visit http://www.mh.alabama.gov/.