Newton first responders fight through busy 2-week period of critical calls

Harvey Co. first responders struggle with mental health during difficult month
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 9:48 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Newton Fire and EMS has responded to seven critical high-profile calls over the last two weeks, most of them resulting in death.

Newton’s Deputy Chief of Fire and EMS said it is taking a serious mental toll on his staff.

On Sunday, July 11, 14-year-old Madison Parrott of Newton was shot and killed. That would mark the beginning of the busiest two-week span of critical calls Newton Fire and EMS Deputy Chief Cory Lehman has ever seen.

“It’s been busy in general this whole year, but the amount of critical calls we’ve ran over the last two weeks is the most in my 20 years on the job here at Newton,” said Lehman. “We’ve ran seven very critical calls.”

On Friday, July 16, a 15-year-old died in an accidental pool drowning. The next day, a car wreck on I-135, just south of Newton, killed Raymond and Denice Bina.

Fast forward two days later on Monday, July 19, a Newton man is killed in a motorcycle accident. Most recently on July 24, two people were killed and five others were injured in another crash I-135 vehicle when their van launched into a cement embankment.

“Doesn’t matter what the call is,” said Lehman. “Our community depends on us to take care of the problem and that’s what we do and then we take care of the emotional aspects after we’re done.”

Lehman said their emotional support resources have been very busy the last couple of weeks. That includes Dabria VanGieson, clinical manager of EMPAC, who helps several first responders.

“I think just us normal people, we don’t realize the impact of being exposed to traumatic situations day in and day out. That accumulates over the days and the years,” VanGieson said.

“People get down, obviously. It affects them emotionally, it affects their work life and their home life,” said Lehman.

VanGieson said her office has seen an increase of first responder patients across South Central Kansas.

“None of us are immune to the effects of trauma. Everybody has that point where they’re like, ‘Man, this is too much.’ And I think we’re seeing a little bit of that now,” said VanGieson.

EMPAC offers free, confidential counseling to the City of Newton as well as the other towns and counties it’s employed by.

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