In comments at the Feb. 15 Cottage Grove City Council meeting, Councilmember Justin Olsen raised the issue of how first responders handle the stress and difficulties that come from the work they do. …
In comments at the Feb. 15 Cottage Grove City Council meeting, Councilmember Justin Olsen raised the issue of how first responders handle the stress and difficulties that come from the work they do. He spoke specifically in regard to the tragic head-on collision that occurred Feb. 12 on Highway 61 between 80th Street and Jamaica Avenue, shocking the community.
The accident left two people dead and two others injured; 95 year-old Julia Ann Bild was traveling southbound (the wrong way) in the northbound lanes around 8:15 a.m. when her car struck the oncoming vehicle of 32 year-old Tanya Mott, which was fatal for both. Passengers in Mott’s vehicle were taken to Regions Hospital with resulting injuries.
Recounting the event, Olsen said, “One of the things that we often forget about when incidents like this occur is the dramatic effect that it has on the first responders. Obviously, we mourn for the loss of lives. One of the individuals involved in the crash was a resident here in Cottage Grove. There was also, I believe, a family from Prescott, and there was a young lady in the backseat of that vehicle. They were heading to Burnsville and she perished in the crash, and we’re very, very sad for that loss of life.
“But it’s also a really dramatic and traumatic incident for first responders to have to respond to. They’re people too, they’re human, they have emotions,” he added. “I was going to ask Deputy Chief Rinzel, if he’s willing, to just touch a moment on what we do for the first responders to ensure that when they come across situations like this, that they have an outlet for their grief, pain and sorrow. We all talk about PTSD and how challenging that is. What are the things that we do to help our folks work through some of the tragic events they have to respond to?”
Deputy Director of Public Safety Greg Rinzel said, “Thank you for the opportunity to explain how we walk through these incidences. As you said so eloquently, these are very traumatic events for the first responders; police, fire, and EMS that show up, including some of our part time community service officers that are young men and women just starting their careers out, that never really expect to see something that is so traumatic like this.”
Rinzel explained that they make it a priority to touch base with anyone who experiences a tragic event like this accident. They are given stress debriefings in private with only the people that were there, and counselors and mental health professionals are made available from outside agencies to help them reconcile what happened.
“We get together and have that opportunity to talk about putting all the pieces together, because a lot of times you’ll be involved with a portion of it so you get a 10% picture,” Rinzel said. “We were able to do that with this incident. All of the individuals that were interested in talking about it were able to get together and have that debriefing, which is an important piece.”
He continued, “These debriefs are really important for us as a group of individuals, to really put the whole puzzle together and share that experience, but also really talk about it in a human aspect. I wear blue polyester, but I go home to my granddaughter. We all have families and we all see these things. A lot of times in law enforcement and EMS, you fill up your bucket with this trauma. You have to have that avenue to be able to tap the bottom of the bucket to let some of that get out.”
Rinzel closed his remarks by assuring the council that he feels Cottage Grove does a commendable job in providing these services for its first responders.