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Services available for emergency personnel after traumatic incidents

They’re supposed to be made of tougher stuff than the rest of us.

They’re the ones that rush headlong into burning buildings, face down masked villains, bring the dying back to life.

But emergency responders, be they firefighters, police officers or emergency medical service personnel, aren’t immune to the stresses wrought by their jobs. When the trauma is too much for them to bear, who helps the helpers?

“Over the years, you build up the tough skin, if you’ve been doing it long enough,” said Cicero Fire Department Chief Jon Barrett. “But there are still cases that bother you.”

For Barrett, that case is a 2009 car accident that claimed the life of a small boy and injured another.

“We responded to a call at Whiting and South Bay where a mom got into a crash with her kids in the car, and it came out after that she was under the influence of cocaine,” Barrett recalled. “That one, out of all the calls I’ve been on, and a lot of them have been serious, that was the hardest. The little boy was 6, and at the time my daughter was about the same age. She’s 12 now. I was one of the first on the scene — I was one of the assistant chiefs at the time — and we just did a scoop-and-go. We knew the seriousness of the injuries and we just had to get him to the ER. We rode up to the hospital after and that’s when they pronounced [him dead].”

Barrett said all calls involving kids are particularly trying.

“It’s hardest with children. I think that’s true for all responders with kids, in my experience,” said Barrett, a 20-year CFD veteran who had previously worked at Rural/Metro Ambulance Service. “The kids are always the hardest, whether it’s a 2-year-old or an 8-year-old. Anyone under 20, I think. It’s a little different if it’s a 90-year-old or a 70-year-old who’s lived his life to the fullest.”

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