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Retired first responder says it's never too late to start healing from work PTSD

Donald Troutman Jr.'s family ambulance company, AIDS Ambulance, ran from 1956 to 1978. Troutman retired in 1977 due to the trauma he experienced on the job.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Donald Troutman Jr. a retired EMS worker in Toledo, reached out to WTOL 11 about the trauma he experienced on the job after seeing other first responders share their stories.

"I'm ready to deal with this. I'm ready to face it head on," Troutman said.

His family started an independent ambulance company, AIDS Ambulance in Toledo in 1956 and ran it until 1978. Troutman's grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles all worked in the business, which Troutman himself joined in 1974.

But the emotional toll of the job weighed heavily on him and he and retired in 1977. While he stayed in the medical field training as a nurse, the terrors of those three years stuck with him. He rarely spoke about what he saw for more than 40 years, until recently.

"I've talked to my counselors and they're all for this. They think it's a great thing I'm trying to do," Troutman said.

He's currently working to share the family's ambulance legacy as a way to heal from his trauma. His uncle, one of the last founding members of the company, recently passed away and Troutman wants to make sure any of the memorabilia from those days is put on display to honor EMS, EMTs and other first responders from the '50s, '60s and '70s.

Joshua Archer, the employee assistance program coordinator for the mental health of the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department, said there is no time limit on when to heal from trauma. It can take months or it can take decades, but it's important to find a healthy way to heal. He said the quicker a person responds to mental trauma the less stress they will experience long-term.

"Let's say like 72 hours to a week or so, you have time to help a person organize how they're going to store this memory," Archer said. "What happens is every time you're exposed to another horrible horrific thing, that whole filing cabinet gets dumped out. That's what PTSD is."

The filing cabinet represents how trauma manifests itself in a person's mind, and the way to prevent disorganization or spiraling is to learn healthy coping mechanisms.

Troutman said when talking to his grandmother, she told him his grandfather rarely spoke about the job. But, Troutman knows he saw horrific scenes given the field he worked in. 

"We were the only ambulance company that worked in north Toledo," Troutman said. "We were the first ambulance company that responded to the tornado back in the '60s. My grandfather responded to the tanker fire that exploded on the [Anthony Wayne Trail in 1961]."

During Archer's first year on the job, he was at the Magnolia Street Fire where firefighters Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman were killed. He said the horrific trauma almost caused him to quit. But, instead, Archer said he found healthy ways to cope with a job he'd grown to love.

Archer has been with TFRD for 10 years now. He said it's not for the faint of heart, but it's worth it if you know how to handle your stress.

"The stereotype is, a hero doesn't reach out for help, they're the ones saving people," Archer said. "If you want to be able to do this position you want to continue to help people, you've got to take care of yourself."

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