Rescuing the Rescuers: Families of Florida 1st responders push for PTSD bill

(WSVN) - Students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas continue to struggle with the tragedy … and so do the first responders who rushed to the school that day. But mental health counseling isn’t always available to first responders. 7’s Andrew Dymburt explains a new push to rescue the rescuers.

The horrific scene is one they will never forget.

Officer Tim Burton, Coral Springs Police: “Can’t get rid of this one. This will be with me forever.”

Police, firefighters and paramedics have been struggling with what they saw at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Sgt. Jeff Heinrich, Coral Springs Police: “My wife is the assistant athletic director who works hand in hand with Chris Hixon, who lost his life. Feis is my son’s football coach. It comes on a different level for me.”

The emotional stress takes its toll.

Division Chief Mike Moser, Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Dept.: “Our first responders have seen things that no human being should ever have to see.”

Mike Moser was there that day.

Division Chief Mike Moser: “When it’s multiple kids, and they just keep coming and coming and coming, it’s tough.”

But saving lives comes at a cost.

Fire Chief Frank Babinec, Coral Springs Fire Dept.: “Some responders, police and fire, who went to the call will be dealing with the effects of this for the rest of their lives.”

Living with disturbing images can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fire Chief Frank Babinec: “This particular scene was horrific, but you have a firefighter, a paramedic who’s been on the job for 20 years, you know, they have 20 years of that built up.”

Diana Sandell knows how dangerous that buildup can be.

Diana Sandell, widow: “I wish this on nobody.”

Her husband Rich, a Pompano Beach Firefighter for 18 years, shot and killed himself two years ago while she was pregnant with their son.

Diana Sandell: “We’re not the only family who has lost a first responder to a suicide due to PTSD, and it’s shocking, the statistics.”

While some police and fire departments have programs that cover the cost of mental health counseling, others do not — unless the first responder is also physically injured on the job.

Families of Florida’s first responders have traveled to Tallahassee to fight for a bill that would make PTSD covered under worker’s compensation, even if the first responder hasn’t been physically injured.

They testified before lawmakers, telling their stories.

Jessica Realin, widow: “My husband was one of the first responders that was responsible for collecting the 49 victims out of Pulse nightclub.”

Some lost jobs because of PTSD; others committed suicide.

Megan Vila, brother committed suicide: “My brother did take his life. My brother did file a worker’s comp claim, and he was denied after two months.”

Families say this bill is especially important in light of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.

Diana Sandell: “Honestly, if it doesn’t get passed this year, I’m afraid that it might be a Parkland firefighter or a Parkland first responder, Coral Springs first responder’s family who is up there next year, and the year after, fighting for these bills to get passed.”

The bill passed unanimously in a house committee hearing on Monday and in a Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday. It’s expected to go up for a final vote on the House floor on Friday.

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