Whether it’s called shell shock or combat fatigue, there has long been a recognized link between war and the symptoms we now call PTSD, such as reliving an event through flashbacks and nightmares. That broad recognition often isn’t there for police officers and firefighters — even as more mass shootings bring the scenes of war to U.S. soil.
Outdated policies, a lack of communication and failures in leadership hampered the operations on the night of the nightclub attack in 2016. It confirms what WMFE and ProPublica reported in September.
The Orlando Fire Department had been working on a plan to respond to a mass shooting. It had even purchased vests filled with tourniquets and special needles to relieve air in the chest. But at the time of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the plan had already sputtered and the vests sat untouched.
Emails and interviews show that the agency had been working for three years to update its response to active shooter situations, but those efforts faltered by the time of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“My head’s still not right,” said one paramedic who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting two years ago. He and some other responders say their departments haven’t given them the help they need.
Like many states, Florida first responders can’t get paid time off work if they get PTSD on the job. The Legislature passed a bill to change that after the Parkland school shooting, but those diagnosed previously are out of luck.
Like many states, Florida does not provide lost wages to first responders disabled with PTSD. A bill that would change that is now gaining momentum after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.
ProPublica is teaming up with Orlando public radio station WMFE to examine the toll PTSD has taken on first responders and their relatives. Tell us your story.