14NEWS Special Report: " Healing Heroes"

Published: Sep. 23, 2015 at 4:18 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 10, 2016 at 1:38 PM CDT
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TRI-STATE (WFIE) - "It's the type of calls and images that leave lasting images in your mind," says Charlie Heflin.

Heflin has been in the fire service for 28 years, but he'll always remember one of his first calls.

"Back in 1991, there was an accident in Cedar Lake, Indiana.  Six people were killed by a drunk driver.  The van flipped over, and erupted into flames," explains Heflin.

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, incites traumatic memories to return when similar situations arise.

First responders run into danger, when the rest of us run away.  But they can't out run PTSD.

"They're dads, they're brothers, and they're husbands," explains Katie, who's lived with PTSD for years.

That deadly car accident and horrific fire stays with those on scene long after the sirens turn off.

"Especially in the first responder world, we try to be strong.  And we don't want to admit when we need help," explains Heflin.

To dilute the line between seeking help or staying quiet, Katie Gillie started a Twitter chat named #PTSDchat.

"It's a pretty isolating, scary thing to live with."

Every week, Charlie and Katie separated by thousands of miles, tweet together with the #PTSDchat.

First responders see people on their worst days and some take those memories home with them.

The open Twitter chats for #PTSDchat are for everyone, every Wednesday night.

For more information on PTSD treatment for first responders, click here.

You can click here for information on a 24-hour hotline for first responders.

According to officials, the Indiana Emergency Operations Center offers a State Critical Incident Stress Management Team for use statewide.  This team is used for first responders who need a critical incident stress debriefing.

First responders have 72 hours after a trauma to deal with the emotional impact of the trauma. After that window, the serotonin in the brain burns the images of that experience in long-term memory.

Katie Gillie, who created #PTSDchat, also utilizes art to help others who are going through PTSD.  For more information on that site, click here.

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