What happens when the community impacted, is the community in which they live? What happens when the person(s) impacted by the crises or disaster is one of their own? At these times, professional trauma now becomes personal.
For professionals it is important that we have an understanding of the layers of trauma that develops in these instances. When first responders respond to calls in their own community, their sense of duty or responsibility may be increased. This is due to the fact that the area that they need to keep safe is where they live - the neighborhood of friends and family. If a call does not go as planned and the community is impacted the first responder may experience a greater sense of guilt.
Another layer of trauma can occur when first responders lose one of their own. When a first responder loses a colleague they are losing more than that, they are losing a member of their family. This might be a person with whom they have ran calls, went through the academy with, or someone they turn to for support with difficult calls. The job does not stop in order for the first responder to grieve their loss.
It is common for a first responder to return to duty where he/she is one again dealing with the trauma of the community around them, while trying not to focus on the reminders of the person who is not there. Even so, many times the triggers arise and great efforts are necessary to avoid, contain, or numb from the impact.
First responders all cope differently depending upon the line of duty he/she serves. Fire service personal, as they often work in a group, turn to each other for support through difficult times, and become much like a professional family. Law enforcement may often be assigned to work in groups, but on patrol are often alone. There is no one to process with or time to debrief. But no matter where they turn, it is difficult for this population to turn to “outsiders”. They have a built in support system that comes with the job, this is whom they trust - this is their family. There is often an assumption that those not in the profession, do not understand. That it takes living the life of a first responder to understand and with that brings trust.
Therapists working with first responders need to be cognizant of the goal of respecting that first responders need emotional protection to survive in the career. This emotional protection becomes a cumulative process in that the wear and tear of the career cannot be dissected to one critical incident. There are many – some fade and some remain. Therapists need to build trust with first responders and the department in which he/she serves.