SEATTLE, Wash. — Working in emergency services means putting yourself in dangerous situations.
It is often life or death. This was the case when a devastating mudslide struck a Seattle community in 2014.
“I was deployed to the Oso mudslide about seven years ago and it was a mudslide that killed 40 people,” said Lt. Michael Dulas, with the Seattle Fire Department.
“My role was to help search the mudslide for people. So, we were literally digging, looking for people,” he said.
Dulas, along with hundreds of first responders, were influenced by the weeks-long search.
“We were up there for four 24 hour shifts in a row,” said Steve Yeutter, who works with Dulas at the fire department.
“The most normal part of that day was petting the search dogs at the end of the day,” said Dulas.
Dulas made a small, but significant change in Seattle Fire after the Oso slip and its aftermath. The department adopted dogs.
“Zoe’s a 2-year-old Bernedoodle, so half Bernese mountain dog and half poodle,” said Dulas.
Mike’s dog Zoe and one of three therapy canines who joined the fire department in a pilot program. Seattle firefighters also own Bob (and Hera) the other two therapy dogs.
“She’s just being a dog, bringing a smile to people’s faces, being goofy, doing dog things. And dogs are proven to lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure,” said Dulas
Agencies across the US are looking for a solution to the mental health crisis. The suicide rate for firefighters and police officers is now higher than that of firefighters who are serving their duty. Around 30% of emergency personnel will suffer from mental health issues like depression or post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“For a number of years, those issues were really under-recognized, and it was just assumed, ‘Oh, they’re tough. They see it every day,’” said Chip Schreiber, a clinical psychologist at UCLA who specializes in creating programs to reduce PTSD in first responders.
“Suicide and serious depression are the final common pathway of stress and symptoms that potentiate and then lead to greater conflict in the environment and ability to function in your family,” said Schreiber.
“In ’95, Seattle lost four firefighters in the Mary Pang warehouse fire. One of them was my best friend. Randy Terlicker was his name,” Yeutter said. “Had a hard time for about 24 hours just even functioning.”