Firefighter support group helps first responders decompress after tragedies

INDEPENDENCE, Ky. -- The crash that killed five family members Thursday was "worse than anything Hollywood could dream up," the Kenton County police chief said. The Independence fire chief said it was the worst single-vehicle loss of life they've ever had.

So how do first responders decompress after seeing tragic like that?

There's a new group called Kentucky Firefighter Peer Support. It was started after PTSD led to six first responders ending their own lives in six years. 

The two-dozen-or-so police, fire and EMS personnel who responded to the scene of the crash on Staffordsburg Road were all given a chance Friday to talk out what they saw. 

Rodney Pollitt Jr., 26; Samantha Malohn, 27; Hailieann Pollitt, 9; Brenden Pollitt, 8 and Callie Pollitt, 6, all died in the crash. 

MORE: Police: Five family members, including 3 kids, killed in Independence crash

Chief Scott Breeze was in charge of the scene for the Independence Fire District. He said first responders had to put their emotions in check and do the difficult job in front of them. 

"If you're walking around very anxious, it just doesn't help out anybody else," he said. 

Through the support group, those who responded were able to decompress. 

"They were probably not in the best mindset, if another emergency call came out, to be thinking clearly like they need to be," Breeze said. 

Newport fire Capt. Randy Childress helped model the program after one in Illinois. 

"We got trained on how to mentally handle every situation, but nobody told us what to do with our feelings," he said. "Nobody told us what to do with the terrible things that we see."

Breeze said the confidential program is invaluable for keeping everyone in tip-top mental condition. 

"It's filling a hole that needed to be filled in the community, especially with our fellow firefighters and EMS workers," he said.

Right now, the program is one of just a few firefighter peer support groups in the country. They plan to next extend it to spouses, so they can better understand the stresses of a first responder.

"I don't want to see someone else end their life because of what they love to do for a living," Childress said.

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