First responder bills pass in committee

Local News

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Our law enforcement officers, EMT’s and fire fighters often witness horrific scenes when they respond to incidents like car crashes and fires.

That’s why two bills making their way through the legislature aim to help first responders deal with their emotions and mental scars that can sometimes haunt them for years.

Crashes, fires, and shootings.

When we hear about them, they can be disturbing, but imagine what a first responder sees.

“You are continuously bombarded with these images and these scenes that most people only see once or twice in their whole lifetime,” Rapid City firefighter Nick Carlson said.

The South Dakota Municipal League provides some mental health insurance for volunteer fire departments, but it only allows for three consultations. After that the volunteers have to pay.

“For some of these things it’s going to take more than three visits, the long term exposure when you see this and how you deal with that, so it’s going to take more than just three visits to really break that down and get the relief they need,” Carlson said.

Two bills that have been introduced in the legislature following a task force study last summer will help first responders with their mental health.

HB 1063 would provide up to $10 thousand dollars worth of mental health coverage per volunteer and HB 1064 would provide money to implement stress management training for all first responders and their peers.

Smaller agencies in more rural areas don’t always have the funds to provide that training.

“They’re experiencing trauma across our state and that is going up,” State Representative Rhonda Milstead said.

State Representative Rhonda Milstead is one of the main sponsors of the bills.

“These volunteer fire departments are the heartbeat of our smaller communities; if those go away, we will not have a rural South Dakota,” Milstead said.

“In the fire service and emergency services all the way around; you’re viewed as a mentally tough individual, but you can really only take so much,” Carlson said.

Both bills passed unanimously in committee.

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