Nightmares plagued Tomball Firefighter James Lutz after a Toyota Tundra ran over his legs. After retrieving a traffic cone at the site of a car wreck, he turned and saw the corner of the vehicle just before it struck him.
The 72 hours following the incident were probably the hardest, recalled his wife Ashley Lutz in a video on the Emergency Chaplain Group website. James Lutz became more withdrawn and started keeping loved ones at a distance.
“You start to think it’d be better if something else happened — if I wasn’t here,” he said.
He found help through the Emergency Chaplain Group, a nonprofit based in Spring.
From Aug 1 through Aug. 4, the organization will host a four-day training event for first responders to learn about managing career-related traumatic stress.
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation Regional Training will be held at Houston City Place Marriott at Springwoods Village. The program is designed to inform and train first responders on handling critical incident trauma, which can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Crisis management professionals, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell and Dr. George Everly, will be leading workshops focused on subjects such as suicide prevention and psychological resilience. Participants can register for workshops online at emchap.org and icisf.org.
“The suicide rate among firefighters, paramedics and police officers is astronomical,” said Chaplain Skip Straus, founder of the Emergency Chaplain Group, in a website video. “Too many of our own brothers and sisters take their lives each year. Stop the trend. Learn the signs. Get educated. Get help.”
The Emergency Chaplain Group provides emotional and spiritual help to first responders. The organization is unique among chaplaincy services, explained managing director and senior chaplain Paul Tabor.
“We require chaplains to have worn the badge,” Tabor said. “All of our chaplains have been a first responder, or are still currently a firefighter, law enforcement, EMS and so forth.”
This is the third year that the group has invited the ICISF regional training program to greater Houston. Tabor said the purpose of this training is to help first responders better understand their jobs and emotions. Sometimes, first responders have difficulty admitting to their emotional struggles, he said.
“First responders tend to be a very closed group,” Tabor said. “They don’t seek any help outside their own group.”
With more than two decades of fire service experience, Spring Fire Department Deputy Chief Scott Schoonover has witnessed traumatic events he can’t forget, he said in an ECG video. From administering CPR to an infant, to being unable to reach people in need during Hurricane Rita, Schoonover said the pressure of these experiences built up over time. He finally sought counseling from the Emergency Chaplain Group.
“If it would’ve just been some ordinary chaplain, I probably wouldn’t have opened up. …After speaking with him, things that agitated me before were no longer agitating me and a big weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Schoonover said.
The Emergency Chaplain Group offers a variety of services and resources to help support the emotional wellbeing of first responders. For more information, visit emergencychaplain.org.