SEATTLE, Wash. — Working in emergency services means putting yourself in dangerous situations.
Sometimes it’s life or death. As was the case with the devastating mudslide that struck a Seattle neighborhood 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 was inspired by the Oso slide, and its aftermath, to make a small, but important change at Seattle Fire. The department received dogs.
“Zoe’s a 2-year-old Bernedoodle, so half Bernese mountain dog and half poodle,” said Dulas.
Zoe is Mike’s dog and one of three therapy dogs who have joined the fire department as part of 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 U.S. are looking for a solution to the mental health crisis. Police officers and firefighters are more likely to commit suicide than they were in the line-of-duty. Around 30% of emergency personnel will suffer from mental health issues like depression and 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,” said Yeutter. “Had a hard time for about 24 hours just even functioning.”
Yeutter has spent three decades with Seattle Fire.
He is now a peer support coordinator and helps firefighters in a variety of situations.
“Possibly line of duty deaths, injuries to firefighters. Some of the other things that might trigger a response might be multi-casualty incidents, or possibly suicides or difficult runs with children,” said Yeutter.
Yeutter and Dulas say that they have had times where they wish there was more from the department.
“I lost a little brother who was in the Army to suicide. I’ve watched my older brother as a firefighter struggle with PTSD and that’s a lot of my motivation is just I want to take a different path and I want to be well,” said Dulas.
Both claim that there are more resources for firefighters today.
“When you feel those reactions when you sick, when you feel stressed, when you can’t sleep for a couple weeks, get out there and ask for help,” said YeutterYou can read more.
“I want to see everyone retire healthy, happy, with their families intact and just go have a great life after,” said Dulas.