DCMH Teams Up to Help People Cope with Critical Community Incidents

After the fire is fought and the accident is scene is cleared, a group of Door County experts is available to help people deal with stress that remains.

The new Door County Critical Incident Stress Management Program formalizes efforts to reach out to emergency workers and others, who may have been at the scene of disasters or situations causing traumatic death or injury. It also gives more organizations – from fire/emergency services and police departments to schools, employers and the Coast Guard – a resource to call on after troubling incidents.

The services offered include group-style debriefings, follow-up individual meetings as needed and informational handouts. There is no cost.

Eighteen local residents have been trained, partially at their own expense, by the International Critical Stress Foundation, Inc. and have formed a non-profit organization here over the past few months.

The volunteers are no strangers to stressful situations as they hold full-time positions with organizations such as Door County Memorial Hospital/Ministry Health Care, Moravian Church of Sturgeon Bay, HELP of Door County, Emergency Services of Door County and others. Dr. Dennis White, a clinical psychologist in Sturgeon Bay, serves as clinical director.

“We want to help for various reasons,” said Reeder Herrick, pastor at the Moravian Church of Sturgeon Bay and DC-CISMP treasurer. “We have a wide representation here.”

The DC-CISMP team believes that emergency workers and others must address stress or suffer possible consequences, which range from depression to work and relationship problems.

“A fireman knows how to fight fires. But when someone dies in the fire, and it is all over and there is no longer any emergency, you can stop to think about it and the stress of it hits,” Herrick said. “You can react in many different ways and depending on your experiences, you can become depressed, violent, angry. There are all types of reactions,” he added.

A debriefing aims to keep adverse effects of stressful situations at bay by getting people to talk about their experiences after an emergency.

Anyone interested in scheduling a debriefing should call 920.746.6944 within one to three days after a critical incident.

Ann DeMeuse, program coordinator of DC-CISMP, takes the calls during normal business hours at Emergency Services of Door County, where she works. She asks callers to give her an overview of what happened and to summarize the current issues at hand. Then, she schedules a debriefing in concert with volunteers’ schedules.

The debriefing session is usually one to two hours long and held on an evening by two to three volunteers. Group sizes vary, and all information shared is kept confidential.

The idea behind critical incident stress management is not new. It’s offered in many areas. On the Door Peninsula, people always came to the aid of others in need, but the response lacked structure, according to Herrick, who helped set up the program’s 501c3 status through the Moravian Church of Sturgeon Bay.

For more information about the Door County Critical Incident Stress Management, call Susan Johnson at DCMH/MHC, 920.743.5566; or, to schedule a debriefing, contact Amy DeMeuse, Emergency Services of Door County, 920.746.6944.