First Four-Legged EMS Team Helps First Responders’ & Citizens’ Mental Health
Berkeley County EMS and its new Canine Assistance Support Team (CAST)—the first of its kind for an EMS agency in the Lowcountry—visited staff at Moncks Corner Medical Center on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The canines provided a mental health boost to healthcare workers serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and helped show appreciation for their work as the hospital celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
The Canine Assistance Support Team is comprised of Darby, a 3-year-old black Australian Shepherd/Lab mix—whose EMS handler is Compliance Chief Edward Roth—and Scarlett, a 1-year-old black Lab—whose handler is Battalion Chief James Anderson. The dogs joined Berkeley County EMS about two months ago; they were donated by Companions For Heroes, a nonprofit organization created to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As busy as we are now (at EMS), it would be very easy for us to go from one awful call right into the next one; jumping from those extremes really is mentally exhausting; it’s certainly not good for the crew and especially not good for the next patient,” said Michael Shirey, Berkeley County Assistant Chief of EMS. “We know that first responders have a higher rate of suicide. The days of bottling it up are over.”
Both dogs are available to help with critical incident stress calls handled by local first responder agencies, hospitals and/or mental health facilities. The canines are also trained to assist any Berkeley County EMS staff member, dispatcher, local first responder, or County employee dealing with varying levels of emotional stress or grief. Each dog is required to complete a minimum of 240 hours of training.
“(The canines) fill a lot of gaps, and people are comfortable with dogs,” said Edward Roth, Berkeley County EMS Compliance Chief. “We can’t afford to lose a firefighter and paramedic every day. Everybody has the scars no one can see. Hopefully, the dogs kind of bridge that gap between the (critical incident) scene and getting that mental health boost. The message is, ‘It’s OK to not be OK.’”