How First Responders Deal With Trauma And Grief: 'We're Not Superheroes'

Feb 8, 2019

The last few weeks have been difficult for first responders around Cincinnati. Five local law enforcement officers have died. A Clermont County sheriff's detective will be laid to rest Friday. Bill Brewer was killed last weekend in a Pierce Township standoff.

Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says of those five deaths, two were in the line of duty, one was in an off-duty crash and two by suicide.

"Everybody's shaken. It's not just people in my office, but everybody in the law enforcement community is truly shaken. This last month has been unbelievable," says Sammarco. "It's depressing. It makes you question your choice of career sometimes."

Greendale, Ind., Police Detective Sergeant Kendle Davis agrees 2019 has been difficult. "We recently laid to rest Officer Woods from Colerain Township. And just about the time you feel like you're starting to heal from that, you have another death, with Detective Brewer. It just kinda builds all that emotion back up."

Davis says first responders are supposed to be superheroes. "We're not. We're human. We feel the same emotions that everyone else does. But the problem is that we often have to suppress them. When something traumatic, like a line of duty death occurs, we immediately have to go back to work."

For first responders, there's a support system: the Greater Cincinnati Police and Fire Chaplain's Services. It's 12 ordained ministers, some who are active duty first responders, some who are retired, and some just pastors in local churches. They offer one-on-one counseling and church services.

Davis is one of the chaplains. Having a foot in each world, police and clergy, gives him a unique perspective, knowing what officers are going through when something bad happens. "We don't want to appear weak. Because we're afraid if we appear weak the department is going to lose confidence in us. I think that's been a perception that's been passed down from generation to generation of law enforcement."

They can turn to the chaplains for counseling.

"Whatever anyone discusses with us as pastors or chaplains, it's similar to an attorney-client privilege. We can't divulge that, and they're aware of that, so I think people feel a little more at ease to talk with us about those situations."

He says public support also goes a long way toward helping officers cope with tragedy and trauma. "When we see people lining the street during these processions and paying their respects, that means a lot to us. And when we know people are holding us in prayer, that means a lot to us."

Davis says in addition to one-on-one counseling, a church in Greendale is now holding non-denominational Saturday night services specifically for first responders and their families.

Clermont County has listed details online about Detective Brewer's services and the funeral procession that will follow.