Wellington’s Public Safety Committee held its quarterly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 25 and featured a presentation by Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Chaplain Jeremy Hurd on the support his agency provides for its first responders.
“I have been asked to talk to you about what first responders deal with and how we help them,” said Hurd, who is also an EMS captain. “I teach mental health to firefighters around the country.”
Hurd became the PBCFR chaplain 11 years ago. As a result, he began learning about what it means to help first responders.
“Average citizens have five traumatic events in their life,” Hurd said. “Typically, it could be the loss of a parent, loss of another family member, a job loss or a bad accident; something along these lines. We have people in our department who may have five of those in a day.”
The department understands that what first responders face daily can weigh heavily on their emotions. They arrive on the scene of deadly car crashes, school shootings and highly publicized incidents that may create anxiety without others knowing.
“Twenty-two veterans take their lives each day to suicide,” Hurd said. “It is lower in police and firefighters, but it is still higher than the national average.”
Hurd explained that first responders are a bit closed-in about facing their emotions. Typically, they are not very emotional people. They believe they can handle what is going on. They say they are fine, even when it may be helpful for them to reach out and speak to others about how they feel.
“What we have tried to do is figure out how to help,” he said. “One of the ways is just allowing them to talk about it. We will have chiefs, lieutenants and captains who are asked how they are doing, and the response is, ‘I’m fine.’”
After years of studying this issue, many communities are now working together to provide better support services and encourage first responders to use them.
“Here’s how it works. When a call is run, if it’s a really bad one — something that involves a child or a high-publicity incident — we try to make opportunities for them to talk to someone,” Hurd said. “We have people like clinicians, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, chaplains or someone they can talk to.”
By educating new recruits, change is starting to filter in. By conveying to first responders they are seeing something that is abnormal, they can build an understanding and perspective on the experience. Speaking about the trauma can put them on a path to healing, while ignoring their traumatic experience is not healthy.
Hurd has formed a company, the Hurd Group, that teaches people how to deal with trauma.
“We have to teach our first responders that this is a job where they will be facing some really tough stuff, and they will see some things that are difficult,” he said. “We train them to have these conversations to tell the first responders this is not normal.”
Hurd explained that in a life-threatening emergency, most people panic. But first responders are trained to stay calm and reserved. Adrenaline and endorphins kick up, but what would cause most people to panic, doesn’t happen the same way to first responders, as they have “remapped their trauma.” But at home, they need to learn not to disconnect.
“We have to teach our first responders how to deal and how to learn how to share these things,” Hurd said. “Our goal is to get people to have a conversation about it. Our goal is to get people to ask for help. It’s an uphill battle because most people get into this work because they are tough and can handle things like this, and they want to keep being tough.”
He noted that Palm Beach County is ahead of much of the country in this regard. “There are a lot of places that are smaller and rural that don’t have this support,” Hurd said.
Even more populated areas can be overwhelmed by major incidents. “When Parkland happened, we were some of the main responders down there for the firefighters,” Hurd said. “We didn’t respond to the event, they did. But our people went down and helped the firefighters because of the training and our great network.”
According to its web site at www.thehurdgroup.org, the Hurd Group strives to provide a comprehensive training program which will raise employee and administrative trauma awareness and address current employee trauma needs by offering emotional wellness and behavioral health training to fire departments, police departments and municipalities.
In other business:
• Director of Emergency Management & Public Safety Nicole Coates told the committee that a traffic study had been completed for the intersection of State Road 7 and Stribling Way at Emerald Cove Middle School.
Traffic piles up at the intersection, making it hazardous not just to the children walking or riding bikes, but other drivers. The committee asked if a traffic study could help implement a solution to the problem.
“We have completed the traffic study that came up at one of the prior meetings,” Coates said. “We wanted to update that we submitted it to Olympia, because the project fell on private property. So, we need to work in collaboration with Olympia. The village would be able to bear the cost of the design, but for the construction costs, we would have to work with the HOA. We submitted it and are waiting for feedback.”
Village Engineer Thomas Lundeen said that the recommendation would be to have a single right-turn lane, a single through lane and a left-turn lane at the school. He voiced his concerns that the solution may be more difficult because it is a private road and the village cannot use public funds on private roads.
• The committee approved an essay contest on “Texting Your Life Away: Eliminating Distracted Driving.” All Wellington High School and Palm Beach Central High School students are eligible to submit an essay of 300 words. The deadline to submit is Dec. 13. The winners will then be selected by the committee.
• Halloween is coming up and Wellington has some safe trick-or-treat opportunities for residents. The Fall Festival on Saturday, Oct. 19 will include some Halloween events at Village Park from 3 to 10 p.m. There will be a free Trunk-or-Treat event at the Wellington High School parking lot on Thursday, Oct. 31 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Also, the Community Services Department is working with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies on a Child Safety Experience at the Wellington Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be a costume contest and prizes. Free bicycle helmets and fittings for children will be available while supplies last.