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Horry County leaders prioritizing mental health services for first responders

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 7:39 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - First responders are exposed to traumatic events on a daily basis and in some cases, those experiences can take a toll on their mental health.

Horry County’s Public Safety Department has hundreds of men and women who respond to all types of emergencies, including the police department, fire rescue and 911 dispatch. When the worst does happen, leaders said there is a peer support team within their departments to lift them up.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokesperson Tony Casey says the organization has close to 500 fire-ems employees and an estimated 150 volunteers. He says the organization’s peer support team has been there to help those workers get through any challenging times.

Cpt. Steve Sampollo is part of the Horry County Fire Rescue Peer Support Team and he describes the group as family.

“When we go do something like a bad call, we’ll go there and make sure everybody is good,”Sampollo said. “We’ll sit everyone in a circle, we’ll let them talk about it and share their experiences.”

He says the peer support doesn’t stop there.

“If we feel the person is still troubled, we’ll always stay in their life,” Sampollo said. “Follow up phone calls.”

In addition to the peer services, public safety workers can also turn to the county for help.

Horry County provides counseling services as part of the Employee Assistance Program.

Councilmember Cam Crawford tells me the program currently offers first responders 12 visits with a counselor. Crawford says he wants to change and make it so they can receive all the counseling they may need up to a year.

Crawford says expanding the services could benefit members of the public safety department like the police and fire rescue who are exposed to traumatic events daily.

“Like a shooting or anything of that nature, a burning building where there may be fatalities involved,” Crawford said. “I think that can lead to PTSD. We want to help those folks work through those issues so they don’t take all that home with them.”

Crawford says staff members are in the discussion and planning phases about the proposal to extend the amount of counseling services offered for first responders. He hopes to have an update about these plans in the next month.

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