SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A nationwide “Ride 4 Relief” is kicking off in Sioux Falls Thursday.
Jeff Shepard is driving through 35 states spreading awareness about the stresses and dangers police officers, firefighters and other first responders face and how they can affect mental health.
“It’s a sad thing and it needs to be talked and people to be aware of it,” Shepard said.
A former police officer and firefighter, Shepard has seen just about everything and has post-traumatic stress disorder to show for it.
“In the ten years that I was at the police department, I was in four incidents where I almost died. It definitely took a toll on my mind and my body. I’m glad I’m healthy now and here to do this and spread the word,” Shepard said.
After being involved in an ambush shooting and an IED attack as an officer, Shepard struggled to sleep, had nightmares and faced other issues. It eventually led to a medical discharge from duty.
“Everybody hears about the military and PTSD and soldiers and Veterans returning. So I started diving a little more into it and was finding out that there’s a lot of suicides, police and fire. Both are very high,” Shepard said.
It’s a topic local officials are aware of. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Mike Clauson says peer support groups are in place now to help firefighters and stress is openly discussed at the academy.
“Only way we can continue to survive in the line of work we do, we need to be able to break down those barriers and talk about issues just like every other human being has,” Clauson said.
Sioux Falls Police Captain Loren McManus gave an example of what happened after the Christmas plane crash.
“Anybody who was out there that wanted to come and talk. We had people that were specially trained to do that diffusing. That helps get that process started of dealing with those emotions and those feelings and how to make sure that we can keep them healthy as they move forward,” McManus said.
They’re programs Shepard is happy to see as he makes his first stop on the Ride 4 Relief tour.
Shepard with Ride 4 Relief is scheduled to make a visit to Chicago next. Shepard rode a motorcycle to 14 states last year from Seattle to Washington, D.C.