Helping those who are first to help: How first responders cope with PTSD

First responders save lives. They quickly throw themselves into life-threatening situations, but at what cost? Tonight we continue coverage of a growing problem in this country – PTSD, drug addiction and even suicide among those who devote their lives to others.

Dan DeGryse: “I tell anybody, ‘You’ve got to have somebody to talk to,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

It’s a conversation Dan DeGryse says is critical among those in the fire service. He’s been on the job for 27 years – the Chicago Battalion chief who’s also a behavioral health counselor has made it his mission to help those who selflessly serve others.

Dan DeGryse: “What I’ve learned, it changes us physiologically. It changes us mentally, and unless we get some support some help some education it festers, it continues.”

The images cause the damage -- the horrific scenes first responders carry with them long after they’ve put out the fire or transported a patient to the hospital. There are resources at the fire house, but there’s also reluctance to ask for help.

Dan DeGryse: “We have to in the fire service, as we do ask people when we go on runs, ask our own members, ‘How are you doing?’ And when they say ‘Hey I’m good,’ say ‘No really, how are you doing?’”

The answers – from those willing to talk – are alarming. Twenty percent of fire fighters and EMS workers suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, many turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with depression and anxiety. Some take their lives.

Dan DeGryse: “When you keep finding out about men on the job and off the job that are taking their lives, that’s pretty impactful. There are 35,000 fire departments across the country. Not everyone is open to the idea that substance abuse or mental health issue. Can we do something specific to the fire fighter paramedic population because something is missing?”

That’s how the Florian Program started -- an inpatient recovery unit at Rosecrance treatment center in Rockford.

Dan DeGryse: “Since we’ve started the Florian Program, we’ve treated over 100 fire fighters and paramedics across the country. I’m very proud of that.”

But he hopes to reach hundreds more – this week the Rosecrance Florian Program is hosting a symposium that will feature speakers from around the country – experts in addiction, PTSD, depression and suicide.

Dan DeGryse: “The fire service has been around for 175 years. There haven’t been treatment centers like this, and there haven’t been venues to bring people together to learn about what’s going on with our men and women in the fire service, fire fighters and paramedics.”

The symposium is open to anyone interested in learning more about the mental health struggles in fire service. It will take place Wednesday through Friday at the Loew’s Chicago O’Hare Hotel.

To learn more about the Rosecrance Florian Symposium, go to
To learn more about treatment at the Rosecrance Florian Program, go to