By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s been another record year when it comes to call volume for the Summit County Rescue Group, a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, the SCRG handled 185 calls and so far this year it’s been 193.

The increasing call volume is one of the the reasons the group was selected for a new pilot program to help them deal with the mental toll the load can create.

“This is a program that’s aimed at creating awareness and bringing processes to rescuers to help them recognize stress injuries, prevent it, mitigate it and have good processes available for the individual rescuer,” said Aaron Parmet, Medical Officer for Summit County Rescue Group.

The SCRG was selected by Responder Alliance — which has worked with the program in other fields — for the “Fundamentals of Stress Injury.” Thanks to recent legislation aimed specifically at funding search and rescue groups in Colorado, the training is free for those participating in the program this year.

The goal is to get around 300 search and rescue members to take part.

So what exactly is stress injury?

“A situation that makes us maybe a little depressed or anxious — puts us in a situation where we can’t do our job the way we really feel we should do our job,” said Jeff Sparhawk, President of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association. “We’re there for our communities. We’re there for them every day, on their worst day, on some community members’ worst day and so we share that day with them in some small part and it rubs off on us, and it gets to us.”

It’s training that wasn’t available to search and rescue personnel previously and certainly not for free but it’s just the beginning of essential tools that, thanks to Senate Bill 20-245, the state will help fund.

“I can tell you, that as long as I’ve been in this, I wish this toolset was available and this training was available when I started 18 years ago because I could’ve used it then but I’m using it now and it’s great,” Parment continued, “having these funds out there supporting this free-to-us training is absolutely key. What a great benefit for the volunteers who are working for the public.”

The training will not only help rescuers have tools to better deal with their mental well-being on the job, but help those they are rescuing as well.

“There’s a component of it that will also help the people that we’re helping and that’s the psychological first aid component of the first aid training and that’s really aimed at someone who is in a stressful situation or has had a traumatic event occur, there’s tools available to help make that person feel safer and bring down their stress response and that prevents some of the longer term affects or helps mitigate them,” said Parment.

To learn more about the Responder Alliance or the programs they offer like the Fundamentals of Stress Injury, click here.

“Rescuer health is absolutely paramount to make them more resilient as an individual and as a team because we also want to look out for our teammates and a good functioning resilient team — that’s better outcomes for the rescuers and for the people we’re trying to help,” said Sparhawk.

Jamie Leary