Superior Response: Delivering training and recognition to first responders
Apr 19, 2019 06:39PM
By: Valerie Marasco, Director - Emergency Management & Public Information
This year marks the delivery of the 30th annual Cook County Emergency Services Conference. The two-day event brings together EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, Dispatch, Search & Rescue, STOP Teams, Emergency Management, Community Emergency Response team volunteers, border protection agencies, emergency chaplains, elected officials and others who play a role in responding to emergencies, to train and learn together. The conference is an annual tradition that attracts attendees from Cook and Lake counties, state officials from St. Paul, and even neighbors north of the border.
Over the last three decades, the event has continued to evolve, delivering a multitude of sessions and hands-on exercises on everything from wilderness first aid to conflict resolution, storm spotter training to active shooter response, northern border security to arson investigation to preparing a will and estate planning for responders, even pet sheltering.
Access to quality training and opportunities to learn more beyond the basics required to get on a squad can be costly and often requires travel and time away from families and jobs. The Cook County Emergency Services Conference, organized by Emergency Management, breaks down those barriers and brings these valuable opportunities to responders right here at home at no cost thanks to sponsorship from the North Shore Health Care Foundation, the Minnesota Board of Fire Training & Education, Grand Marais State Bank and other generous donations of funding and prizes from other local businesses and citizens.
Dedicated emergency volunteers, along with law enforcement and dispatch professionals, are the lifeblood of Cook County’s superior emergency response (pun intended). These folks are often up against some of the most challenging terrain and conditions in the state and encounter many tough calls each year – each one with the potential to leave a mark on the responder. Add in the influx of a significant tourist population despite the same limited number of resources and these challenges are compounded.
Our emergency responders often wear many hats, have families and other jobs, but still have answered the call to serve. They’ve stepped up to be there for people in the darkest moments, when accidents happen, people get lost or injured and when Mother Nature strikes. One thing Cook County does extremely well, including the community as a whole, is come together in times of need. But this level of response can take a toll on responders and is cumulative.
Just as it’s important to have the proper protective gear on an incident, it’s also important that responders have the mental and emotional tools in their arsenal to deal with exposure to trauma and critical incident stress. The statistics around officer, firefighter and EMS responder suicide is alarming. Less extreme but common are the effects of calls that show up in coping mechanisms, impacts to health and sleep, and impacts on marriages/relationships. Individuals may not even know they are experiencing stress effects.
Acknowledgement of the conditions that responders are exposed to is finally becoming less of a taboo conversation and work is being done to change the culture in emergency services to protect those who repeatedly answer that call. Emergency response leaders have a responsibility to identify needs and put in place the appropriate resources for our responders to meet the public safety needs in our communities – protecting and mitigating risk for them for the long-term ranks high on the list.
My favorite analogy when thinking about the toll that being an emergency responder can take, especially law enforcement, goes like this. Imagine you are issued a backpack the very first day on the job which you can never take off. It will now be attached to you forever. With each incident you respond to over the course of your career, you add a stone to your pack.
Some calls will yield grains of sand, some pebbles, some a hefty rock and some boulders. Whether it’s in a paid position or as a volunteer, on scene there’s equal opportunity for trauma exposure. Over time, the backpack gets pretty heavy.
If we don’t know how to unload that pack from time to time, the weight of it can slow you down, hold you back or take you down. When we learn how to unload it and that it’s okay to acknowledge how heavy that pack is after a while, it’s a lot easier to keep going and answer pages without hesitation, minimizing damage along the way.
Sessions built in to this year’s conference to help fill the resiliency tool box include:
. High Risk Decision Making/Flawed Situational Awareness: The Stealth Killer of First Responders
. Resiliency and Overcoming Exposure to Trauma
. SafeTALK – Suicide Alertness for Everyone
. Collateral Damage: Left Behind by Suicide – Changing the Culture in Emergency Services
. Street Smart Incident Command with the MN State Fire Marshal Division
. The Story of One Wildland Firefighter: Staying Positive Through Stress & Doing More of What You Love
. Ethics & Integrity in Emergency Leadership
. Cook County Emergency Chaplaincy—Lightening the Load of Response and Recovery
In addition to classroom sessions, the conference offers responders a rare hands-on opportunity to train across agencies for the betterment of countywide response. Examples of exercises include live burn rotations for firefighters, 3Echo Active Shooter and Explosive Device Response, various Search & Rescue ops and more.
Another important aspect of the conference is recognition through the annual Outstanding Emergency Services awards. Watch for more information on our deserving recipients who will be awarded at the closing banquet April 27.
To all our responders and those who have supported the Emergency Services Conference—the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff ’s Office and the Office of Emergency Management is grateful to each and every one of you.
County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County—Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service