Police, firefighters, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are on the front lines of the most challenging emergencies, incidents, and disasters, often endangering their own well-being and safety for the protection of others. Communities rely on these first responders to manage urgent and emergency situations where lives may be at stake. These professionals have many positive characteristics: a commitment to helping, a family bond among teams, strong socialization and social connections, a commitment to physical health and readiness, and self-sacrifice. These qualities make first responders vital to how Oklahoma faces traumatic events. But traumatic exposures also make them vulnerable to great risks to both their physical and mental health.
Amid a pandemic and higher levels of stress and mental health need across Oklahoma, first responders have continued to serve their communities while often dealing with growing levels of workplace stress. As a result, first responders have experienced rising mental distress, with implications for the future of these professions and safety in Oklahoma. As Oklahoma responds to the mental health effects of the past two years, policymakers at the state, community, and jurisdictional levels can mobilize continued and new support for first responders.