Front lines of tragedy: First responders carry a heavy load

The police chief in Newton Falls is trained to help his crew through tough situations

First responders may suffer from depression


NEWTON FALLS, Ohio (WKBN) – During a crisis or tragedy many overlook the toll that can have on a first responder. Police, fire, and EMS have a higher risk for depression and suicide because of their jobs.

Over time, the stress can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Newton Falls Police Chief Gene Fixler has been in the field for 43 years. And besides working with law enforcement, working with the mentally ill is his passion.

Fixler has been a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management Team’s Trumbull and Lake Geauga branches, helping work with peers in crisis.

“Police officers, firefighters, EMT personnel, they can get depressed by what they see. It is up to us to go and help them, too,” Fixler said. “When my officers encounter anything that would bother them personally, I am here to talk to them. There are other mental health people there to talk to them.”

Fixler is trained in crisis intervention that helps him deal with tough situations that may have a negative impact on his crew. The death of a child, domestic incidents, fatal car accidents, and full-scale emergencies. Fixler noted the suicides by police officers and firefighters that followed September 11.

Fixler says should one of his officers fall into a depression, he encourages them to reach out and ask for help. It’s confidential and he says keeping it inside won’t fix the problem.

“We are a cut above. We have to be a little bit stronger, but we are only human,” Fixler said.

WKBN will be taking calls to a counselor during First News at 5 and 6 p.m. Certified and trained counselors will be standing by from 5 to 8 p.m. to take calls on mental health, including depression, anxiety, suicide as well as substance abuse.

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