By Rick Palsgrove
The stress of life as a police officer or a firefighter can exact a painful toll on first responders.
This strain is expressed in the following words in an anonymous note written by a police officer, “I never knew that being a cop could hurt so much. I can’t do this any more. I am sorry.”
Groveport Police Chief Ralph Portier is well aware of this stress and its impacts. In 1998, to help combat the depression and strain felt by first responders, Portier created the program, “Dying in Blue.” It’s purpose is to create and maintain awareness for all first responders and their families about the dangers of the trauma they see each day.
“In 1998, I noted the suicide of an officer I knew and tried to determine the reason for the death,” said Portier. “What I found during my research was the lack of employer assistance and that police chiefs, fire chiefs and sheriffs did not understand how to handle these situations before a suicide occurred with their agency.”
Portier, who has been involved as a first responder himself since 1971, said his life in public service gives him credibility with fire/EMS and law enforcement.
According to Portier, so far in 2019, more than 50 police officers have committed suicide.
“Presently firefighters are gathering that information, but it is happening, throughout the United States,” said Portier.
Divorce frequency based on the stress and depression they deal with is also high among first responders.
“Oddly, the American public has a divorce rate of 51 percent, but first responders can see it as high 60 to 70 percent,” said Portier.
Portier has been presenting “Dying in Blue” (which he funds himself) all over Ohio, primarily through mental health services. He said he has expanded over the years to individual departments who may not have the means to have this type of training. Portier said it is hard to estimate, but he thinks he has presented the program to about 2,000 first responders over the years.
“I speak frankly in terms of awareness, physiological and psychological information, seeking help and helping others,” said Portier. “What I have found during and after each lecture is that first responders will open up and begin to talk to each other and pretty soon, help starts immediately.”
Portier also keeps the stories he hears from first responders private.
“My promise to those who have opened up to me is to keep their stories confidential,” said Portier.
When asked how the public can help ease the strain first responders face, Portier said, “This is a hard question to answer, but I believe supporting your police, firefighters, EMS, doctors, nurses and dispatchers truly helps. These first responders never ask to be recognized, but, like what many of our residents in Groveport do for us all the time, we love cookies!”