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We can never forget Idaho’s first responders

November 7, 2018
Mat Erpelding Dennis Doan
Mat Erpelding Dennis Doan

By Idaho Representative Mat Erpelding and Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan

Idaho’s first responders experience unthinkable horrors on a routine basis. Whether it’s witnessing victims of domestic violence, pulling a body from a fire or accompanying a car-accident victim in an ambulance to the hospital. Much of what they see and hear does not make the news or social media.

Even when it does, the public does not see or feel what our first responders go through each day. A news story comes and goes in a minute or so before it is lost forever. For Idaho’s best and bravest, the images never go away.

They never forget.

That’s probably why more of our nation’s police officers and firefighters committed suicide last year than were killed in the line of duty. That’s probably why first responders have PTSD and depression at a level five times that of civilians. That’s probably why so many of our strongest men and women turn to alcohol, drugs and pills to cope.

For many, the images they see on the job play in an endless loop in their head.

They never forget.

Oftentimes, the most serious injuries our first responders suffer are the ones you cannot see. Even the strongest individuals are scarred by the mental and psychological stress of their day-to-day job. It’s no surprise that mental or psychological injuries can be the biggest hazard of being a first responder.

That’s why it’s time that Idaho stands up for its police, fire and EMTs.

Under current state law, mental or psychological injuries are not covered by workers’ compensation unless the mental injury is coupled with a physical one. In other words, a firefighter who pulls a body out of a burning home and injures their back in the process can be covered by workers’ compensation for psychological problems. The same firefighter who is not physically injured in the process is out of luck.

They have to pay out of pocket for any mental health treatment that results from the horror they experience. Idaho is among just a handful of states with this type of limited coverage.

Recently, Firefighter Tim Wonacott sought treatment for PTSD. November marks the three-year anniversary of his return to the Boise Fire Department. Wonacott made the choice to seek treatment without the benefit of coverage from workers’ compensation. The decision was not easy.

He had to use his available time off while his family worked to make ends meet. Wonacott says he knows of at least two co-workers who are not receiving the mental health treatment they need because they can’t take the needed time off.

The daily stresses of the job add up quickly. For Wonacott, it was a call in 2016 he could not forget. A minivan struck a young boy on a bicycle and dragged him under its tires for about 60 feet. The boy survived, but Wonacott could not shake the memory of that horrific event.

After months of treatment, he is back on the job and glad he sought the help he did. He wants others to ask for it too. But, he also knows how difficult it can be to find the time and money for treatment.

We pledge to take action to change this law and cover the most serious injuries many of our first responders suffer. We believe there’s a bipartisan majority in the statehouse that supports this change.

Let’s work together to show our first responders we truly value the sacrifices they make every day. It’s the least the State of Idaho can do to show they care about the well-being of our best and bravest.

We won’t forget Idaho’s first responders. We can’t. We hope you won’t either.

Representative Mat Erpelding is the Idaho State House Democratic Leader and a former EMT. Dennis Doan is the Boise Fire Chief who has been with the department for nearly 30 years.

© Kootenai Valley Times
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83806