"There has been a large increase in mental health issues, psychiatric type calls, along with addiction and suicide attempts. Ten years ago if we went on a handful a month it was a rarity, now we sometimes go on a handful a day," nineteen year veteran Matthew Graham explained after being asked what the difference was between an average call ten years ago and an average call today.
Twenty three year veteran Scott Torchik added on by saying, "The substance abuse problem was a much smaller population then it is now, now it is more wide spread through the community. Hitting more families, prominent families that people wouldn't expect."
We had the privilege of sitting down with three veteran New Philadelphia Firefighters to talk about the mental health issues we face as a community, and the addiction issues plaguing our communities.
When asked how they stay free from getting jaded Torchik responded, "I approach it from a personal level having had family member that lost the battle to addiction. When I go on those calls I can relate to the family. When my family is struggling I don't want jaded responders coming and taking care of them."
Nineteen year veteran Wes Halter stated that his approach is a simple and compassionate one, "From my side it's just knowing that there is a person on the other side of that. A lot of times when we go out with the ambulance we see them at their worst, and sometimes we continually see them at their worst...there is a person behind the overdose person, and I just try and direct them to the help they need."
Wes Halter coordinates Tuscarawas County's Quick Response Team. The team sends a team of professionals, including a counselor, a recovering addict, a deputy sheriff and a paramedic, to the houses of people who have experienced a recent overdose.
Matthew Graham shared about an experience he had when he joined the Quick Response Team one day, "Seeing a young mother and her reaction when she saw a sheriff's deputy, and a paramedic, and a counselor show up when she didn't call or even ask, and seeing how much we cared, she was overwhelmed with emotion...I felt like I did so much good, just for her to realize that people cared about her...The good Lord put everyone on this earth for a reason, and nobody is worthless."
Years of experience have changed Graham’s approach. He continued, "What has changed me is learning more about addiction, and how it affects a person, affects their brain...nobody wants to be this way...everyone deserves a chance. We can't give up on them, there is always hope.”
"It's important to call 911 early," Wes Halter explained when asked why the public should be encouraged to call them first and not last in an emergency situation. He continued, "When we come to an emergency scene we are there for the patient, we are not wondering why they did that, or who gave it to them, we are not worried about anything like that."
All three men are actively involved in the community outside their jobs at the fire station, whether it's coaching sports or riding rodeo. Matthew Graham shared his heart towards healthy community, "It's just so important to have a healthy community and getting involved with our kids lives early on and being a positive role model and influence...a lot of kids don't have father figures in their lives, so being a coach or a mentor really starts them out with a good set of values."
When asked what they would say to encourage an individual or family that is in an active struggle with mental health or addiction issues Torchik said, "Don't give up hope...don't enable the person, but don't write them off. You need to draw solid hard lines so they know you love them, but they can't cross certain points."
"It's going to take love. It's a fight, it's a battle, it's a disease people have," was Graham's response to the same question. He continued, "It's going to take love, compassion, empathy...my hope is that the community realizes that this is a disease and they everyone needs to get involved...I hope that people latch onto resources and that the community gets involved."
If you or a loved one needs help, stop waiting. There are people that can help.
Full 13min video interview HERE
Special thanks to Wes Halter, Matthew Graham, Scott Torchik and the New Philadelphia Fire Department.
There are great local resources available.
ADAMHS Board - 330-343-1811
Recovering Reality - Recovery Coaching- email@example.com - 619-880-6935
Tuscarawas County Job and Family Services - 330-339-7791
Ohio number for recovery and mental health resources - 877-275-6364