GAFFNEY, S.C. (WIS) - Evelyn Wilson uses one of the most difficult moments in her life to help others.
Wilson is a paramedic and works with the South Carolina First Responders’ Assistance and Support Team (SC FAST). “On October 25, 2006, my husband, who was a paramedic, committed suicide.”
She was on the phone with her husband before he took his own life. “Unfortunately, I was the last person to speak to him. He told me what he was going to do and I wasn’t able to stop him.”
Wilson said she developed PTSD-like symptoms. Nightmares, changing in her eating habits, and extreme anxiety. She said she even had compassion fatigue. It was affecting her job performance. “There was no around for me, just like there hadn’t been anyone around for my husband.”
Wilson said the first responder culture was to always keep your problems to yourself. “We felt like if we asked for help we would get fired or we wouldn’t get promoted or get the job we wanted at another department.”
SC FAST is working to flip that switch. They were established in 2012. They go around the state talking to first responders and peer support groups.
State Coordinator Patti Graham said, “We know there's about 40,000 first responders in the state. We know that we’ve touched just a few of them.”
The program helps first responders identify the signs of PTSD, how to handle symptoms and how to get help. “We want to let them know that it’s okay not to be okay. But it’s not okay to stay there.”
In this upcoming year’s budget, $250,000 will go towards helping fund SC FAST and cover some medical costs for first responders dealing with mental injuries as a result of traumatic events at work. Robert Foster with the Cherokee County Fire Chaplain Team said the training and information they learn is put to good use. “By doing this training we learn to observe them and realize they are struggling even though they don’t realize it themselves.”
SC FAST said they hold about 1 or 2 of these peer training session per month.