Every year on the anniversary of 9/11 many of the victims, families and first responders struggle to cope with the anguish and pain caused by the terrorist attacks on America. The impact inflicted is as much alive today as it was in 2001.
Although it is more than 20 years later, the memories for our LAFD firefighters sent to New York are still vivid and, at times, challenging. The LAFD Critical Incident Stress Management team was one of the teams that immediately rushed to ground zero to help and support first responders and volunteers cope with the horror of the attack on the World Trade Center. Their mission? To help people get through the serious emotional trauma they faced in New York.
Two of these LAFD firefighters, who witnessed the disaster firsthand, are sharing their experiences. We must warn you, some of the things they describe are graphic. But their vow is to never forget the nearly 3000 people who lost their lives. Some of those who went through it are haunted by what they witnessed. Watch as Stacy Gerlich, LAFD Battalion Chief (retired) and Dave Badgett, LAFD Assistant Chief (retired) take us through the tragedy and aftermath of 9/11, and offer valuable advice to first responders about experiences such as this one and mental health. Here’s their story in their own words:
Understanding what firefighters face in service to others helps the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund and its many kind and generous supporters give these heroes our support.
Critical Incident Stress Management
What is CISM? The purpose of the Critical Incident Stress Management team is to mitigate the impact of an event, accelerate the recovery process and assess the need of additional or alternative services for mental health. Captain II Rick Godinez (retired), who was on the LAFD CISM team that responded to 9/11 says it was the first time the team was deployed for such an incident. In 2019 the city of Los Angeles recognized the value of the LAFD behavioral health program. A report released by then Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, addressed the four areas identified by the council, which included awareness, prevention, intervention and post crisis strategies.
Rick says back in 2001, “In our firefighter world, you didn’t admit that you’re hurting, you suck it up.” As a FEMA Task Force member, Rick experienced some of history’s biggest disasters. His work as a former senior chaplain for the LAFD also put him shoulder to shoulder with the families and firefighters going through tragic and difficult situations.
“Because of these LAFD teams, whether it’s CISM, the Chaplaincy, Urban Search and Rescue, or the related organizations such as the L.A. Firemen’s Relief Association and its trustees, or UFLAC [United Firefighters of Los Angeles City], we are all there for our fellow firefighters and LAFD families in a variety of capacities and it really is an honor to assist them in their time of need,” he says.
Rick explains our charity’s Family Support Group has been key in providing the next level of service to our hero families who’ve sacrificed and suffered loss. He says once the funeral and tributes for a fallen firefighter are over, Family Support steps in to make sure surviving spouses and children are cared for and connected to their LAFD family for life. Coordinators Diane Vigil and Valerie Lawrence personally reach out to them. Diane says they send sympathy cards upon the firefighter’s passing, call surviving spouses on the anniversary of their loved-one’s death and send birthday cards to both children and spouses. Rick says, “We always tell them we are not going to forget you. We call them when there are brush fires that have broken out, when there are hurricanes, earthquakes or flooding, wherever they live across the United States, we call them to make sure they are OK. And that’s all part of their mental health.”
Now, the culture of the fire service is evolving across the country, encouraging first responders to focus on emotional well-being and take steps to protect their mental health.
Some resources available:
The IAFF Center of Excellence:
UFLAC Center for Health and Wellness:
To learn more about the LAFD visit https://www.lafd.org/