TIP – Trauma Intervention Program: Angels of Mercy & Compassion

Robert M. Winston reports on a civilian outreach program.


Firefighters, emergency medical responders and law enforcement personnel are first-in at fires, motor vehicle accidents, shootings, stabbings, suicides and attempted suicides, and a multitude of other emergency situations. In addition to the physical damage they cause, these incidents evoke...


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Firefighters, emergency medical responders and law enforcement personnel are first-in at fires, motor vehicle accidents, shootings, stabbings, suicides and attempted suicides, and a multitude of other emergency situations. In addition to the physical damage they cause, these incidents evoke emotional trauma to the first-in responders as well as to the victims, family members, friends and witnesses.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
During a simulated emergency response, a TIP volunteer practices the skills needed to comfort a relative of a trauma victim. TIP volunteers work closely with fire, police and EMS personnel and respond directly to emergency incidents where such "emotional first aid" to victims and loved ones is most needed.

Those first-in responders perform their duties and mitigate the incidents. If they require critical incident stress management (CISM), it is usually available to them. However, what becomes of the civilians who are involved, directly or indirectly, in an emergency incident that may leave the scars of emotional trauma? Do we, as first responders, think about the emotional aftershocks to people who have been involved in traumatic incidents? What happens to them after you leave the scene of such an incident? Are their emotional needs being met after you return to quarters? In far too many instances the answer is no.

Many times during my long fire service career as a first responder and an incident commander, I felt a sense of inadequacy and helplessness as I cleared scenes of devastation and emotional trauma. Most of the time, no support networks were in place for those victims left standing in the aftermath of tragic circumstances. At a structure fire it was standard operating procedure to call the Red Cross to the scene to assist displaced residents with housing, furniture and clothing replacements. But who was there for the victims' immediate emotional welfare? Too often, it was no one.

Many times, I tried, unsuccessfully, to console people at fires that had cost them all of their possessions in a fire, or who had been involved in serious MVAs, or had looked upon the body of a loved one who had died suddenly of a heart attack. It was at those times that those emotionally traumatized people needed the assistance of a person trained in emotional trauma intervention.

Trauma Intervention Programs Inc. (TIP Inc.) was founded in 1985 by Wayne Fortin, a licensed mental health professional in the San Diego area. The idea was conceived and developed by Fortin after many of his clients who were involved in difficult personal loss cases told him of feeling alone, abandoned or ignored during and after their emotional traumas.

"The initial traumatic incident causes the primary damage and the manner in which the situation is handled causes the secondary (emotionally traumatic) injury that can be avoided," Fortin said. He also heard from first responders about their feelings after leaving distraught people alone immediately following MVAs and other damaging incidents.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
In a simulated emergency, TIP volunteers Susan Rutherford (right) and Diana Cordes console and assure a trauma "patient" before transport to a local hospital.

TIP was highly successful in its formative years, and in 1989, Fortin established it as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing immediate support to people emotionally impacted by crisis events. He led TIP in a national competition for the Innovations in State and Local Government Awards in 1991. TIP won the innovations award and received a $100,000 award from co-sponsors, The Ford Foundation and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, to replicate its services nationwide. Today, TIP Inc. operates 20 chapters in 150 cities and towns across America. More than 160 participating emergency agencies and over 800 TIP volunteers respond to the needs of a potential client population of 6 million individuals. TIP Inc. contracts with emergency agencies and its volunteers are on call 365/24/7.

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