HISTORY OF NORTH BAY REGIONAL CRITICAL INCIDENT STRESS TEAM
The North Bay Regional Critical Incident Stress Team [NBRCISM] was organized over 25 years ago by a group of Sonoma and Marin County First Responders representing local fire, law enforcement, medical, and dispatch personnel.
The individuals were aware of the emotional impact that certain calls to which they responded were having on theirs and their colleagues’ physical and psychological well-being. It was obvious that the cumulative effect of responding to events like the death of a child or traumatic vehicle accidents was impairing the ability of some responders, over a period of time, to effectively carry out their professional duties or to live normal lives while off-duty.
Essentially, the effect of continually responding to traumatic events that under any other situation than the work-life of a First Responder would be considered “abnormal events” was adversely impacting the workplace and the personal life of the First Responder. Perhaps, not in every traumatic situation, but cumulatively these situations would build up and finally one critical incident would impact the Responder in their physical or emotional well-being.
The Sonoma-Marin County First Responders recognized that one of the causes of this negative development was the lack of a mechanism to “normalize” the Responders after a highly traumatic event. Being aware of the work of Jeffrey Mitchell, a paramedic who had developed a model for “defusing” or “debriefing” after a particularly traumatic event, the Sonoma-Marin First Responders adopted the system developed by Mitchell. It was based upon the theory that if you can not talk about the event, then you can not put it to rest. Or, said another way, discussing the situation that just occurred; how the event unfolded; what was the Responder’s first reaction when they got on scene; what they emotionally felt about the event they were responding to; and what effect that it might currently have on them, emotionally or physically.
Everyone is encouraged to talk, but there is no requirement to do so. All comments are confidential and the only people who gather to discuss the event are those that were on scene or, in the case of dispatchers, were directly involved in communications relating to the event. It is stressed that no supervisors who were not on scene are invited to attend as this is not intended to be a critique of how the First Responders carried out their professional duties while on scene.
So, the North Bay Regional Critical Incident Stress Management Team was born. A paging system was developed for any First Responder individual or department to contact the Coordinator for the NBRCISM Team, asking for a “debriefing” or “defusing” following the traumatic event. The Team Coordinator, in turn, would contact members of the Team and schedule a time and place for a debriefing or defusing.
The goals of those who founded the NBRCISM Team have been validated time and time again over the past 25 years. Literally over a 100 debriefings and defusings have been held at the request of First Responders and the conclusions of those who attended have always been very positive. It has proved to be a mechanism that has allowed First Responders to release emotions in privacy with full confidentiality of what they could say about the event.