ALERT Completes Psychological First Aid Training

Londonderry’s volunteer emergency response team, ALERT, which stands for “A Londonderry Emergency Response Team, has completed a crash course in psychological first aid that will serve members both in their personal lives and as they serve the community in a crisis.

“This isn’t just for the mental health community,” said Salem Vineyard Community Church Associate Pastor Natalie Larson, an ALERT member who provided the training to her colleagues earlier this month.

Larson said she realized how valuable the training can be when her son, Ari, experienced a traumatic event last summer and she was able to guide her family in supporting him during the first few hours, weeks and months.

While out riding on July 4, Ari saw a car strike his friend’s motorcycle, throwing the young man and his girlfriend from the bike and killing them both.

Larson said Ari, an ALERT member with psychological first aid training, responded, searching for the young woman, who died in his arms.

When they met Ari at the hospital, Larson said it was clear her son was under a tremendous amount of stress.

“I knew that he needed to dictate what it was that was necessary for him, and my needs needed to take a back seat to what his needs were. My mother heart wanted to comfort him, but he went to his dad and to a friend who came to the hospital,” she said. “I could have taken that personally because it had nothing to do with me. That training was really helpful.”

Larson said having her psychological first aid training at the ready accelerated her family’s recovery.

“One of the things she brought forth is that the most important person when faced with a psychological situation is yourself. She placed a lot of emphasis on you being the most important person,” said Bill “Remi” Fortin, ALERT vice president and communication captain. “When you’re having a tragic event, be it a motorcycle accident or a fall, to be able to deal with your feelings and grief without making it become a part of the situation. That was important – trying to listen to other people when there’s a psychological trauma, she related that to her son.”

Fortin said Larson’s message “really hit home” after having witnessed a number of significant car accidents while on the road operating a trucking and framing business.

“I have seen a situation where the person died, and it leaves a picture in your mind,” he said.

Larson said that’s exactly why psychological first aid proves so valuable – it not only allows responders, like the members of ALERT, to be more compassionate and effective in assisting those who have experienced a trauma, it also will help members to process “second hand stress.”

Noting ALERT’s focus is emergency response, Larson explained that if the group is sent out into the woods to search for someone and discovers something tragic has occurred to that person, “now every person that’s part of the emergency response team has suffered a traumatic incident.

“If someone is in a helping position, they may not realize they too are being affected,” she said. “My goal is, how do we have good information as to what happens to a person psychologically, emotionally and spiritually in the aftermath of a traumatic event. For me, personally, it’s more than that; I’m interested in long-term stress and how to mitigate it in people in our community.”

Lessons Larson covered in her three-and-a-half hour training program with ALERT included being a good listener, having patience and recognizing the warning signs when additional help is needed.

Larson also explained the importance of self-care as a helper and when it’s time for a helper to seek additional assistance for herself, and steps to take to reduce stress, such as practicing “trauma breathing” and staying hydrated.

Fortin said ALERT continuously trains throughout the year to enhance skills that may be needed when the team is activated.

For more information about ALERT and how to join, visit www.londonderryalert.org or email Fortin at  HYPERLINK “mailto:rwfortin@comcast.net” rwfortin@comcast.net.

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