When a dispatcher or a first responder in the field is called for an overdose, they are thrust very suddenly into a situation that can mean life or death.
But once the emotion and the fear of the emergency has cleared away, the two parties often never connect again — unless it is during a later overdose.
On Wednesday night , the second annual First Responders Appreciation Dinner was held as a chance to acknowledge the compassion fatigue that plagues first responders and thank them for the lifesaving work they do for people battling addiction in Carroll County.
Two members of the community who are in recovery shared their stories. For both, there were first responders in the audience who saved their lives by administering naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose.
Lindsey Staymates now spends her time at work and volunteering to help others into long-term recovery. But not too long ago, she was in the middle of addiction that made her feel like “a shell of a person” and overdosed three times in a short period.
“But you guys aren’t, so I’m not,” he said to the gathered group.
He said that he understands their burnout, saving the same lives over and over.
“I was one of those lives.”
Now that he works with others in recovery, he understands the frustration of trying to help people who don’t accept it, but also get the privilege of seeing success stories in the way many first-responders don’t get to.
“I saw enough pain that I know what real joy is today.”
The dinner was hosted by the Carroll County Opioid Coalition with naloxone survivors and the community.
Health Officer Ed Singer, of the Carroll County Health Department, addressed the crowd gathered at Carroll Community College, which included many dress uniforms and fire company shirts among the formal wear.
He spoke about the burden of compassion fatigue, and read words from a dispatcher in Vermont: “To help the person and not know if they are going to make it or not, sometimes becomes just too much,” Singer read.
He said to the crowd that although they may not hear about it, there are people who recover from addiction and who go on to lead good lives and help others in addiction.
Captain Tom Kowalczyk of the Westminster police Department delivered the community message. Also a firefighter and paramedic, he was instrumental in the formation and training of the Crisis Intervention Team.
“We see the tragedies, we see the loss of life, we see the families struggling,” he said.
To interact and build relationships with people in recovery is “an honor,” he said, and it is refreshing to to hear the success stories.
He said he tells his officers that they might tell a person how to get help and they will reject the message 15 times. But they have to be ready to extend their hand on the 16th time when they finally want that help.
“You’re getting that seed started,” he said.
The keynote speaker was Lt. Marc Junkerman of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.