Update: Since the Newtown killings in December, over two thousand people have been killed across America, and the number rises daily. Emergency repsonders have gone to every one of these calls. They are the first to witness the carnage, and sometimes, save the family and friends the trauma of seeing it themselves. Whidbey CareNet exists because of the trauma and stress that emergency responders experience. We have a solution, and we want to share it.
For Immediate Release
How Whidbey Island Cares for Its Emergency Responders
The world’s eyes are on Newtown, Connecticut, this week as the families of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School lay their loved ones to rest. As painful as their experience has been, there’s one thing they didn’t do: witness the carnage. It was emergency responders who did that. They went from one victim to another, hoping to save lives, but covered little bodies with blankets instead, put them on gurneys, transported them to aid vehicles, and had trouble falling asleep that night. More than 20 percent of them will develop PTSD, and approximately 40 percent of them will self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Last year, within a six-week period, the close-knit community of South Whidbey Island lost four young people in car accidents. Mick Poynter (20), Mack Porter (19), and Rob Knight (22) died in the same accident on November 12, and nine-year-old Zippy Leonard died on Christmas Day. The community rallied around the families of the victims. But when Rob Harrison, an EMT who responded to the accident that killed Zippy burst into tears at the South Whidbey Commons, Petra Martin wondered, “Who’s taking care of the emergency responders?”
Martin had created a tool that helps people put their feelings into words, but she didn’t consider herself qualified to provide the care she thought responders needed. So she created a website called whidbeycarenet.org and asked a number of caregivers if they were willing to provide free care for emergency responders. Her request went viral, and today, more than 30 providers offer everything from free counseling and massage therapy to free naturopathic and chiropractic care. “I was appalled when I realized that we’d neglected our emergency responders—most of whom are volunteers,” Martin says. “Caregivers felt the same way. They continue to thank me for giving them an opportunity to serve the men and women who care for us on the worst days of our lives.”
Whidbey CareNet serves both professional and volunteer responders. Professionals risk losing their jobs if they admit to seeking treatment for conditions such as PTSD, so confidentiality is critical. The organization encourages emergency responders to contact providers directly and asks providers not to reveal responder identities to Whidbey CareNet.
“Whidbey CareNet providers have helped me get through one of the most difficult years of my life,” says Harrison, who now co-directs the organization. “I have a de-stressing tool kit that I can—and do—use any time. When triggering events like Newtown happen, especially so close to the anniversary of Zippy’s death and my own emotional awakening, I know I have resources. I wish all emergency responders were as fortunate as I am.”
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Whidbey CareNet is a nonprofit organization that was incorporated in Washington State on February 15, 2011.
Petra Martin, founder & director of provider services
Rob Harrison, firefighter/EMT & director of responder services
Charlene Ray, LICSW, counselor, Whidbey CareNet provider, and school-based mental health coordinator and supervisor for Island County