AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — In light of the recent deadly apartment fire in Aurora that took a child’s life and hospitalized two others, FOX31 checked in with a nonprofit that helps front-line workers deal with mental health and stress injuries that the job creates.

The fire was allegedly set on purpose and burned through 12 units, displacing 31 people — 18 adults and eight children. A 5-year-old boy died.

The All Clear Foundation said they recognize the things that they are exposed to on the job impact the human behind the badge, the uniform and the scrubs.  

“There is pretty consistent occupational exposure to the intense trauma and pain of other people, to a lot of tragedy,” said Rhonda Kelly, the executive director of the All Clear Foundation. “Responders experience exposure to more stress and trauma in the course of a year than many people do in their lifetimes. It is a lot to handle.”

Rhonda Kelly knows first hand. She used to be a firefighter in Aurora for years and she knows everyone deals with devastating situations, like the Aurora townhome fire, in different ways.   

“Some of the firefighters may be moms or dads, parents, who have a personal connection to this loss. Others may not have a deeply personal connection to it. They may find that while it’s tragic and sad, it doesn’t really bother them on a deep level. And either one of those responses is entirely OK,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that 18-28% of emergency responders suffer from PTSD, and over the past year, anxiety and depression rates were at an all-time high.   

How first responders can get help with trauma

The Aurora Police Department said it has a wellness unit that has two officers specifically assigned to check in on their peers’ mental health. Public Information Officer Francisco Saucedo described how those officers might reach out.

“How are you handling this call? Did it affect you in a certain way? Here are some resources for you, that you can reach out to or, introduce them to somebody else within the department who’s experienced something similar, and they can reach out to them as a mentor to see, you know, how they went through the process of healing,” Saucedo said.

The All Clear Foundation has different resources, such as an anonymous peer-to-peer platform called Responder Rel8. It’s a free, confidential platform for emergency responders and frontline medical workers. It’s available 24/7, so responders can connect with others who have similar lived experiences, which helps normalize the stressors and challenges of the job while increasing connection.

“We want to talk to somebody who gets it, somebody who’s had the same lived experience, somebody who isn’t going to break confidentiality,” Kelly said. “And somebody, more importantly, who’s not going to judge, who can hear us say how we’re feeling — can hear the somewhat off-color sense of humor that we have to talk about things. Because if you can’t laugh about it, you’re gonna cry.”

There is also a digital platform with hundreds of evidence-based resources and tools to support responders, healthcare workers and their loved ones with their personal and professional well-being called YOU | ResponderStrong.  

“Emergency responders, oftentimes, inadvertently bring the trauma and the stress of the job home with them, and it impacts their family life. It interferes with their family life, too,” Kelly said. “Family members are oftentimes the first ones to recognize those signs of stress injury — he or she just isn’t acting the same. Things are different. They’re angry, they’re not sleeping, whatever the issue is.

“Family members [can] do self-assessments to explore evidence-based, vetted information regarding unique occupational challenges of the job and the things that impact us as humans, whether or not we are the responder or where the family member is wearing the invisible uniform,” Kelly said.

The foundation also has a crisis text line: if you or a loved one are in crisis, you can text BADGE to 741-741 to connect confidentially with a trained crisis counselor.