• New Orange County program seeks to help Pulse first responders

    By: Jason Kelly , Lauren Seabrook

    Updated:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - The Orange County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday will approve funding for a new program to help those who continue to deal with the emotional toll of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

    The $8.4 million program, which is being funded by a federal grant, seeks to provide training, assistance and services to first responders, hospital staff, medical examiner's office employees and mental health workers who were affected by the June 2016 attack that left 49 people dead.

    The training, which will be provided by St. Petersburg College's Center for Public Safety Innovation, will train first responders on how to care for themselves after a crisis.


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    Edward Maerkl, of the Orlando Fire Department, said training firefighters how to practice self-care is as important as training them how to fight fire.

    He said the stigma of mental illness often prevents first responders from seeking treatment.

    "We're moving toward reducing that," Maerkl said. "I want all of our first responders, including me, to operate at peak performance all the time."

    He said each first responder reacts differently to the tragedies they encounter while on the job.

    Read: Former Eatonville officer, Pulse first responder with PTSD granted disability pension

    "Some people may go to a particular incident ... and, minutes after or days after, they're fine and have no issues ever," Maerkl said. "Others may take months, weeks or sometimes even years."

    Donna Wyche, of the county's health services department, said the same thing.

    "People handle stress in different ways. Some people are more resilient than others," she said. "It really is about understanding your biology when you're in crisis and how to feel what you're feeling and work through that."

    The U.S. Department of Justice's Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program awarded the grant that will fund the program.

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