Non-profit organization helps first responders cope with PTSD

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First responder mental health. Photo via WINK News.
First responder. (Credit: WINK News)

Aaron Arts-Kottke did not always want to be a firefighter.

“I actually went to college for six years and got a masters degree,” Arts-Kottke said. “College taught me what I don’t want to do.”

Not knowing what he wanted to do, Arts-Kottke signed up for fire school and something clicked.

“I was like I need to be here,”¬†Arts-Kottke said. “This is what I want to do.”

But a few months ago, Arts-Kottke hit what he called a “rut.”

“I was scrolling through Instagram one night when I was sitting at my hospital job and there was some firefighter page,” Arts-Kottke said. “It was called, Next Rung, and it popped up.”

Next Rung is a national non-profit organization, whose mission is to combat mental health issues in first responders.

“Some of those things, you just can’t unsee,” he said.

Mental health in our first responders has been a topic of conversation statewide. Just this month, a new Florida law states first responders can obtain worker’s compensation for post traumatic stress disorder.

Post traumatic stress disorder can occur after a distressing event. Those suffering from the mental health condition will have symptoms, such as re-experiencing the event with intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares; the avoidance of people and places that are associated with those thoughts; and suicidal ideation.

Added to post traumatic stress disorder is the rough schedule that firefighters have. The schedule of their work often alternates day and night assignments, which can lead to significant sleep deprivation and fatigue. The long-term chronic stress becomes an impediment that first responders must cope with.

Aaron now works as a hospital emergency medical technician, awaiting the day he resume his passion as a firefighter. But the help he received from Next Rung is something Arts-Kottke thinks all first responders should not be afraid to request.

“Especially for the men who are in it who are like, ‘no I manly and tough,'”¬†Arts-Kottke said. “That stuff will eat at you no matter what.”

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